Analysis: Packers have many reasons to move on from Ty Montgomery

Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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The Green Bay Packers still should cut Ty Montgomery. The question is, when?

Let’s take Montgomery at his word that he returned a late kickoff in the Packers’ 29-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday not because he was peeved at being taken out of the game earlier, and that he in no way disregarded orders to take the touchback if the ball was kicked to the end zone.

Let’s take him at his word that he was unsure where he was when he fielded the ball and did the safe thing by returning the kick rather than putting the call in the officials’ hands, only to fumble the return and cost the Packers’ their last chance to win the game.

People make mistakes. We all do.

Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery (88) rushes against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (55) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on Sunday, September 16, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis.

The problem is, there’s just too much going on with Montgomery at this point, and for the good of the locker room, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Brian Gutekunst should move on from the fourth-year running back, even though that doesn’t look like their plan as of now.

A couple points to consider:

First, reported that at least one teammate thought Montgomery’s anger at being pulled the previous series clouded his judgment on the kickoff return. That teammate probably isn’t the only one.

Second, Montgomery is an experienced return man and has to know where he is in that crucial of a situation. With 2:05 to play, you take the touchback if at all possible to save the extra timeout with the two-minute warning. It’s standard NFL practice.

So you stand on the goal line, and if you step back to catch the ball, you take a knee for the touchback. Montgomery was a good 1 ½ to 2 yards into the end zone when he caught that kick. If he didn’t know that, he really, really should have. The game was on the line.

Whether his judgment was clouded by anger or not, it was a colossally bad decision from an experienced player at a time when caution was in order.

With a star player you’d just live with it, at least for the rest of the season. But Montgomery isn’t a star, and with everything that happened with him Sunday, the Packers’ best move now is to move on from him. The NFL is a win-or-else business, and while that doesn’t take all the humanity from the game, teams still have to draw lines to maintain accountability and keep everyone on his toes. This is one of those times. The locker room is watching.

In his Monday news conference, McCarthy gave no indications the Packers are going to move on from Montgomery, who even with a diminishing role has a key job as their two-minute back.

“He made a mistake,” McCarthy said in exonerating him.

There’s always the chance McCarthy and Gutekunst could release Montgomery later in the week. McCarthy gave no signals to think that’s in the plans, but there would be competitive reasons to wait until Saturday to let Montgomery go.

If the Packers cut Montgomery earlier in the week, he’d be subject to waivers. They play the New England Patriots on Sunday, and it’s a good bet that coach Bill Belichick would put in a claim. If no team higher on the priority list also claimed him, Montgomery would go to New England.

Belichick would then ply Montgomery for every bit of information about the Packers he could get.

This is a common practice in the NFL, even bringing in the player for only that week. One former NFL player has told us that when he was released by one team, that team’s next opponent picked him up. When he reported, he immediately was whisked into an office and grilled for four hours about his former club. Scheme, audibles, scouting reports on players. Everything.

One other point about Montgomery on Sunday easily overlooked was that he made another key mistake not long before the fumble.

On the Packers’ final series, they got the ball back with 6:49 to play and badly needed points to extend their 27-26 lead against maybe the best offense in the NFL.

With 5:57 left, Montgomery re-entered the game on third-and-six. He was in there because he’s better in pass protection than Aaron Jones and a better receiver than Jamaal Williams.

Montgomery lined up to Aaron Rodgers’ left, and the Rams’ best pass rusher, Aaron Donald, beat left guard Lane Taylor to the inside off the snap. Montgomery’s job is to pick up the most imminent threat, and that clearly was Donald. If Montgomery had just stepped over and thrown his body into Donald, it would have slowed the rusher enough for Rodgers to maneuver in the pocket and hit Davante Adams on a short crossing route for what probably would have been a first down.

But Montgomery instead helped pick up a stunt that left tackle David Bakhtiari and center Corey Linsley appeared to be handling just fine. Donald essentially had a free run up the middle and sacked Rodgers for a 10-yard loss that ended the possession.

Full coverage

The adage is true that a good pass rush can do more for coverage than vice versa, but teams can still play good NFL defense doing it the other way around. That’s the way the Packers have to do it this season, and Sunday they showed that when their young cornerbacks are healthy it can work.

Because of injuries, Jaire Alexander (groin) and Kevin King (shoulder) hadn’t played together since Week 2. But Sunday, the two young cornerbacks were healthy and had strong performances, and along with Tramon Williams provided excellent coverage against one of the most explosive teams in the NFL.

Alexander had a remarkable day with five pass breakups, including one on third down that got the defense off the field. That might have been his best play of the game. He jammed receiver Robert Woods at the line of scrimmage, but Woods has good speed and still was able to get over the top of Alexander. Yet the rookie cornerback was explosive and competitive enough to catch up so that the pass hit him in the back of the helmet for the break up that got the Packers’ defense off the field.

King also had a big third-down breakup. And the coverage was consistently good enough that the Packers had three third-down sacks – two by Kenny Clark, and one by Clay Matthews.

This is how the Packers will have to do it this year. They don’t have an outside rusher who can blow around the edge and get a sack in less than 2.5 seconds. So they need to make the quarterback hold the ball a tick or two longer and hope inside rushers King and Mike Daniels can collapse the pocket and get to the passer, or that Matthews can get home with a second or third effort.

The Rams have too good of an offense to shut down. But the Packers’ defense, especially in coverage, played well enough to win the game.

Extra points

» Rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is becoming the deep receiving threat the Packers’ offense has been missing the last few years. His go-ahead, 40-yard touchdown pass Sunday demonstrated how far he has come since training camp. The key to the play was that he kept his feet moving and beat cornerback Troy Hill’s jam at the line of scrimmage. When he got around the jam, Valdes-Scantling’s 4.37-second 40 speed was too much for Hill, and he was wide open for Rodgers’ perfect strike for the touchdown.

» How far former third-round pick Montravius Adams has fallen. He’s behind undrafted rookie Tyler Lancaster in the defensive line rotation, and for good reason. Against the Rams, Lancaster played eight snaps, all on early downs, to Adams’ five. And at least for stopping the run, the dropoff from Clark and Daniels to Lancaster and Dean Lowry wasn’t that great.

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