GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers coach Mike McCarthy's offseason started way too early for his liking.
Three days after the San Francisco 49ers ended their season and the Packers are in the thick of starting to look ahead to 2014. For all the strengths on offense, it's the defense that again needs a tuneup.
"We need more impact players. We need more players making plays on defense. I think that's stating the obvious," McCarthy said Wednesday in his season-ending news conference. "I feel that those guys are here, but do we have more coming in? That's really what the offseason is for."
Green Bay finished 8-8-1 but benefited from stumbles by Chicago and Detroit to take a third straight NFC North title. That might be considered a huge accomplishment given the injuries that ravaged both sides of the team, particularly to quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) and linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb).
Rodgers went down for when the Packers were 5-2, and the team went 2-5-1 before he returned to help win the season finale against the Bears to claim the division. His absence was the defining factor to the Packers' fortunes.
But just as concerning was the collapse of the defense at about the same time as Rodgers' injury. The Packers started getting porous against the run. They went nearly the first three months of the year struggling to force turnovers before coming up with a bunch in December.
All of which has led to questions about whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers should go.
"Well once again, we're not even 72 hours away from the game, OK. Dom Capers is an outstanding football coach. No one will be evaluated today," McCarthy said when asked if Capers would be back.
Evaluation of coaches will take place the next couple weeks, though it doesn't sound like McCarthy is planning to change things up drastically.
"I'm not going into this looking to make big changes," said McCarthy, adding that he was glad Capers was on the staff.
It also doesn't sound as if Capers is looking to move on, either.
"I have no plans of not coaching, I'll say that," he said.
Green Bay finished the regular season ranked 25th in total defense, giving up 372 yards per game. Even without Matthews, who finished with a team-high 7 ½ sacks, Capers is satisfied with the pass rush. The Packers were tied for eighth in the league with 44.
But they suffered from a lack of turnovers. The Packers had just 11 interceptions all season. Not having cornerback Casey Hayward, who had six picks as a rookie in 2012, hurt.
Veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk probably had the best season of his eight-year career after a team-high 118 tackles and career-high five sacks. Still, the Packers could use speed and/or playmaking ability at linebacker.
Safety also is a top concern. Morgan Burnett signed a four-year extension in the offseason, then missed the first three games with a hamstring injury. Neither Burnett, nor the other starting safety, M.D. Jennings, had an interception.
"I've always believed this: to be a real top-notch defense, you have to have two or three guys that basically are what I consider difference makers, where sometime within a 60-play game you're going to see two or three plays that really have an impact and influence the game," Capers said.
The offense has several of those options. Start with Rodgers and receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Add in emerging rookie running back Eddie Lacy. Even if free agent-to-be James Jones doesn't return at receiver, the offense has big-play potential.
For his part, Rodgers said Tuesday on his radio show that he thought one window of opportunity was closing for the Packers — though a new one was beginning.
"We have a lot of things that are setting up to be really good for a long time, a lot of really good young players," Rodgers said on 540-AM ESPN in Milwaukee. "I think this window has a chance to open up and be really bright for four or five years when you can get guys signed and keep them around."