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2011 Season Defensive & Specialist Player Grades

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2011 Season Defensive & Specialist Player Grades

(Apologies this took so long. I've been laid up with pneumonia and still am not a hundred percent. Offensive grades here.)

Defensive Line:

Ryan Pickett: B

The elder statesman was by far and away the best performer on the defensive line. His importance to the run defense was illustrated when he was out of the lineup later in the season. As well as he played against the run, offered close to nothing when it came to pushing the pocket. Does so many little things well, his play can be overlooked.

B.J. Raji: C+

Was not the player we saw at the end of 2010. Tended to disappear for long stretches. Had his snaps limited for fear the team was wearing him down, but that didn't seem to help. Occasionally came up against an offensive line he could take advantage of, but overall took a big step back in 2011.

Jarius Wynn: C-

An opening night starter, was charged with helping provide the push and pursuit that was lost when the team let Cullen Jenkins walk. Just not physical enough. Decent motor that lets him get an occasional sack when coverage is good or his line-mates flush the quarterback his way. A liability against the run.

Mike Neal: D -

Went down in a non-contact drill the first week of training camp and didn't see the field until the Tampa game. May have come back too early, as he showed none of the burst off the line that he displayed in 2010 before being lost to injury. Needs a healthy offseason and a good camp. Can still contribute and should not be counted out.

C. J. Wilson: C-

Improved as the year went on. Not much more than a body, but gives decent effort. Offers nothing in the pass rush department and not much more against the run, though he can keep lesser offensive lineman off the linebackers.

Howard Green: D

Took a big step back from his 2010 campaign. Everyone remembers the push he got in the Super Bowl to disrupt Ben Roethlisberger's throw out of his own endzone, leading to Nick Collins' interception. Push like that was simply non-existent in 2011. What's worse, he struggled mightily to hold his ground against the run. Set to be a free agent in 2012, will most likely be allowed to test the market.

 

Outside Linebacker:

Clay Matthews: B+

The lone pass rushing threat, missed out on several sacks by a split second. While his sack total may have declined, his overall game took another step forward. Asked to play much more coverage this year, showed good awareness and ability to diagnose plays as they happened. One of the better tacklers on the team (which is not saying much) rarely got caught out of position when teams tried to fool him with motion away from him. Disciplined, athletic and with a non-stop motor, his production would explode if he had any help whatsoever rushing the passer.

Frank Zombo: D

Just could not stay on the field. Started the year by getting hurt in warmups for a preseason game and showed his toughness by playing that same game with a broken scapula. When he did finally see the field, struggled mightily and tried to do way too much. Got caught too often reaching for tackles rather than coming to balance and driving through the ball carrier. Took a big step back.

Brad Jones: C

Despite ending the season by having a sack in the two games where he was called on to start, showed very little rushing the passer when he finally got his chance to start opposite Matthews at outside linebacker. Where Jones has always excelled is in holding the outside edge against the run, and he didn't disappoint in that aspect in his limited playing time. There is just nothing dynamic about his game.

Erik Walden: C -

If the season had ended prior to his arrest on assault chargers, Walden probably would have graded out as a solid "B"  player. But after his arrest, his play took a nosedive, so badly that the Packers were holding open-tryouts for his position during the Week 17 game against the Lions. Began the year showing good hustle and explosion off the edge. While not a dynamic pass rusher, was often around the quarterback, causing movement in pocket. Where he's always struggled, and where he struggled exponentially in 2011, was when disciplined play was called for, he was too often flying to the football when if he had simply read his keys they would have told him to stay home. Reverses and counters run to his side almost always netted big yards.

Jamari Lattimore: D -

Made a cameo appearance against Chicago, when the defensive staff started holding the open tryouts for Walden's job that continued the following week against Detroit. Is valued on special teams but showed absolutely nothing from scrimmage.

Vic So'oto: D

The People's Champ after his eye-opening performance in the team's last preseason game, never did much with his chances from scrimmage. Plays too high and is too easily taken out of his pass rush by running backs going low. Needs to spend the offseason in his playbook and working non-stop on his technique. If he works hard, he could make some noise in camp next summer.

 

Inside Linebacker:

A.J. Hawk: D

Prior to injuring his calf on Thanksgiving, Hawk was probably headed to a "C" grade. But after sitting out, Hawk was simply terrible. Played one of his better games down in Atlanta, after the defensive staff made a schematic adjustment that allowed Hawk to attack the line of scrimmage rather than read and react. Other than that glimpse, however, Hawk was average at best and a real liability at worst. Having just signed a a five-year, $33.75 million contract last offseason, Hawk isn't going anywhere next year. But after 2012, his contract makes it pretty easy to release him. Watch for the Packers to mix-in D.J. Smith next year to ready him to take over for Hawk in 2013.

Desmond Bishop: B

Took a big step forward overall. Showed excellent burst through the line when allowed to rush the passer, but also played under control and was rarely fooled by misdirection. Asked to do too much, would probably get more national recognition if he had more help around him. (Not only Hawk, but in front of him on the defensive line as well.) One of the few defensive players whose play improved over his 2010 output, his skill and athleticism are close to being wasted. One area where he needs improvement is in coverage against tight ends who are allowed to work across the field, but even that deficiency in his game can somewhat be attributed to the lack of pass rush. Bishop is ready to be a star with even a little help around him.

D.J. Smith: C+

Did an admirable job filling in when both Hawk and Bishop went down with calf injuries on Thanksgiving. A real headhunter who never met a ballcarrier he shied away from. Can be taken advantage of due to his aggressiveness, but overall did a fine job calling the defensive plays and playing within the defense. Needs major refinement when it comes to rushing the passer.

Robert Francois: C -

Showed his athleticism with a fantastic interception of Matthew Stafford on Thanksgiving when dropping into a deep zone. That same playmaking ability was on display again against Oakland when he intercepted Carson Palmer in the endzone. Those two plays, however, were just about it. Was easily pushed around in the run game and offered nothing when rushing the passer. Still, his interceptions coupled with a forced fumble showed he can make plays at the NFL level. Now, he needs a good offseason and time in the weight room.


Cornerback:

Charles Woodson: B 

Despite tying for the league lead in interceptions, Woodson took too many chances and showed some dead legs toward the end of the season. After spending two seasons terrorizing teams from the slot in Capers' 2-4-5 nickel defense, opposing teams did a good job of negating his effectiveness there in 2011. Gone were many of the impact plays the team had come to expect from Woodson out of that alignment and in its place was an aging corner who was too easily blocked and who, when allowed to come free off the edge, rarely made the impact plays we have seen in the past. It's also troubling to hear him quoted at the Pro Bowl saying that "personnel" was the main area in need of improvement on defense. While there are certainly positions in need of an upgrade, the fact remains that many of the defensive backs have taken on Woodson's risk-taking persona, and their fundamentals have suffered because of it. Look no further than the infamous Hail Mary in the playoff game against the Giants. If Woodson and the others simply play their technique and fundamentals on that play, the score is 13-10 heading into the half, rather than 20-10. Instead, the tape shows a lackadaisical group that figures their athleticism alone will not allow a miracle to occur. When the Packers were winning the Super Bowl, Woodson's study habits were lauded for the influence they had on his secondary running-mates. It's only fair to call out his up and down effort in 2011 for the influence it had on his teammates as well.

Tramon Williams: C -

Was never the same after suffering a shoulder injury in the opening week against the Saints. Perhaps because of the injury or perhaps to protect from suspect safety play behind him, did not challenge receivers nearly as much at the line of scrimmage. Instead, allowed huge cushions off the line of scrimmage which gave receivers free reign to run through the Packers' secondary unmolested for huge gains. His tackling also took a big step backwards. Never seemed to be on the same page with any of the safeties, including Nick Collins before he was lost for the season due to injury. A truly troubling step back for a player the Packers rewarded late last November with a five-year, $38.148 million contract.

Jarrett Bush: C 

The most physical member of the secondary after Woodson, Bush played about as well as could be expected when pressed into duty. His solid tackling actually earned him a rotational appearance in the playoff game against the Giants due to Sam Shields' horrific tackling. Will never be anything more than average in coverage, did a decent job when called-upon to rush the passer. The trouble, of course, was that opposing teams realized that they could pick on Bush with impunity. That said, it can't be said he was that much worse than the rest of the secondary in man coverage - that's how bad 2011 was.

Sam Shields: D+

Took a monstrous step back from his 2010 campaign. Was really hurt from the lack of an offseason. Showed no form or desire when it came to tackling. Truly pathetic when it came to any of the physical aspects of the game of football. Seems to think he's Woodson without displaying any of the toughness or providing any of the production. Needs a tough offseason of training and of looking in the mirror and asking himself just how good he wants to be. He has the ability to be an excellent corner in the National Football League, but unless he figures out a way to want it - will never be nothing more than an athletic tease.

Pat Lee: D-

Has never shown much advancement from the promising initial training camp he had his rookie year. A body who could be gone if the Packers see any development from Davon House next year.

 

Safety:

Nick Collins: I

There's a good chance Collins has played his last snap of football. He's young with a loving family, he's got money in the bank and has a Super Bowl ring. Has said he will let the Packers know in March what his future plans are. Was one of the better safeties in football and the hit to the Packers defense his absence created was there for all to see in 2011.

Morgan Burnett: C -

Has finally played a season's worth of NFL games, a fact many forgot while watching his up and down campaign. After being lost for the season in 2010, was obviously limited by the lack of an offseason due to the lockout. Also affected by having to play with a club on his hand after breaking his hand in October. Was lost at times when asked to play the deep middle and gave up way too many plays there. Showed promise around the line of scrimmage and when asked to rush the passer. Could turn into a player if he studies hard and limits his mistakes in coverage.

Charlie Peprah: D 

Absolutely terrible. Was always a liability in coverage, but was worse than ever in that department in 2011. The only thing keeping him from a failing grade are the few big plays he did make, which were due much more to scheme than any real ballhakwing on Peprah's part. Peprah is fine as a spot-replacement for a game when a starter goes down. But he was an unmitigated disaster without Nick Collins there to cover for his lack of athleticism.

 

Specialists:

Mason Crosby: B 

Mirrored the team by starting out on fire and then fading down the stretch when it came to his field goal kicking. Was a real weapon on kickoffs and can be credited with the improvement by the kick-coverage unit. Returners simply didn't have many opportunities to bring kicks back with Crosby booming them deep into the endzone. Was also valuable for his uncanny ability to place onside kicks, the last futile effort against the Giants notwithstanding.

Tim Masthay: B

Another solid season from Masthay. After a slow start, did an excellent job kicking the ball inside the 20 and limiting opponents return opportunities. His excellent work in tilting field position was often wasted by a porous defense. Becomes close to invaluable for his ability to hit the ball well in cold weather.

Brett Goode: Pass

Long snappers are graded pass/fail because, well, they either do the one job they are supposed to do or they don’t. Once again, Goode did it and did it well.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (35) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Bearmeat's picture

Thanks Aaron - many of my thoughts mirror your analysis. Well thought out and articulated.

I hadn't that Woodson's main problem was trying to make too many plays, I thought it was that he was just slower. Quite honestly, if the rest of the secondary copies his risk taking style our D will continue to be absolutely terrifying. For us. Not for opponents. Woodson is one of a kind. You don't copy that.

Interceptions are great, but with this offense, I'd take a safer short gain/tackle or a batted down pass.

If Collins doesn't come back, we need upgrades at RDE, WILB, ROLB, FS, and possible replacements for Nickel corner and CB #2.

Woody is right. We need upgrades. Including starting to look at him.

Bob's picture

The secondary is undisiplined and needs a message sent that they will understand. There is an old saying that says the best way to kill a snake is to cut off it head. I think your last comment goes to the heart of the problem with the secondary. Maybe its time for Woodson to move on.

Oppy's picture

The head of the snake should be the position coach as opposed to a player, should it not?

After all, it's Joe Whitt, Jr. who is ultimately responsible for the way the players study, train, and execute.

Clearly, Woodson's veteran presence demands the younger players respect and attention, but if it is overtaking the leadership and authority of the position coach, that's a coaching problem, not a personnel problem.

Idiot Fan's picture

Losing Woody and potentially Collins in the secondary would be a big loss of experience. Woody is clearly declining, but having some sort of veteran presence back there is probably a good thing.

Jeremy's picture

I had a tremendous amount of respect for Joe Whitt until I heard him excusing the ridiculous number of yards allowed by calling them junk time yards. The Packers secondary played with no pride and listening to Joe Whitt talk told me a lot about why.

Bob's picture

That is my take on this problem also, the coaches lost control of the secondary. Can just bringing in new coaches get the players back in line or do they need to see that the new staff means business by severing ties with some players who are thought to be untouchable.

cow42's picture

"If Collins doesn’t come back, we need upgrades at RDE, WILB, ROLB, FS, and possible replacements for Nickel corner and CB #2".

Sobering thought.

Could be dead on.

But I'm gonna stay positive here (surprise-surprise -surprise).

RDE - Neal is gonna stay healthy and show to be a player.

WILB - Smith will gradually take hold of this spot (I foresee a - has to play due to injury-never relinquishes the job once he has it - scenario).

CB#2 - With no need to spend days in a chair getting another gigantic neck tat, Shields takes that now-available time to actually work on his game. A true offseason of development results in his getting back on track.

ROLB - You'll be looking at a 1st rounder playing this spot in '12-'13.

FS - Woody agrees to the move and flourishes. People ask... "Why didn't they make that move last year?"

That leaves Nickel Corner - just gonna cross my fingers on House here.

redlights's picture

what about LDE? Need to have a rotation to guard against injury and keep Raji fresher.

PackersRS's picture

Cow as a positive poster.

The mayans were right.

Oppy's picture

This is comedic gold, RS!
:)

Ruppert's picture

Love the positivity...(if positivity is even a word).

I'm going to bang on the "we need D linemen" drum this entire off-season, I think. DEs, specifically. I'm curious to see what they do with Wynn and Wilson. Wynn has 3 years in. He should be better by now. I think he's gone unless his assumed replacement washes out in camp.

Wilson only has two years in, but I'm not sure he has much potential left to cling to. I could see both these guys gone, hopefully replaced with at least one draft pick from rds 1-3.

I think/hope we might even see an overhaul where Wilson, Wynn and Green are gone. The D needs help, and I think the remodeling should start up front.

Rocky70's picture

(B, C+, C-, D-, C-, & D.) These are probably lenient grades for the DL. The worst part about it is that one could have predicted grades close to these (with said players) even before the season began. Same can be said for the hodge-podge of OLB candidates. (Again, an obvious weakness going into season 2011)

Walden-Zombo-B. Jones-So'oto = Whitticker, Barbre, Giacomini, Moll & Meredith.

When will TT learn? Your best players are still drafted in the 1st 3 rounds of the draft. He'll have to be bold this off-season to regain my full support. (A FA or 2 anyone?)

Can you spell 'non-playoff team'?? ---My greatest fear for season 2012 ----- AR can't possibly match 122/45/6 & the "D" improves little.

packeraaron's picture

Wait - you sincerely think the Packers are set to go from a 15-1 regular season to a non-playoff team? Really?

As long as McCarthy and Rodgers are in place, this is a playoff team.

That said - your equation of the OLBs to the OL scrubs of years past is a good one.

Rocky70's picture

15-1 to a non-playoff record of 10-6 or even 9-7 is not as far a drop as you might think. (especially when your defense is in such disarray)

'07 to '08 resulted in 13-3 to 6-10. That had different conditions than now but the drop still caught me off-guard.

packeraaron's picture

Oh I agree that they could easily drop record-wise. But one of the most important things in the NFL is continuity, and the Packers will have it on both sides of the ball along with another draft class and, hopefully, some improvement from the class of '11 to help along the way. Again, with Rodgers playing and McCarthy coaching, I don't see this as a playoff team at worst, and a definite contender if they find even the slightest bit of improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Jeremy's picture

I think we can count on a record drop. 15-1 seasons are pretty darn rare. Fighting for playoff position would do this team some good anyway.

Idiot Fan's picture

"He’ll have to be bold this off-season to regain my full support."

Seriously Ted, what have you done for us lately?

PackersRS's picture

I needed some humor. Thank you.

Oppy's picture

Typo under Desmond Bishop-

"One area where he needs improvement is in coverage against LINEBACKERS who are allowed to work across the field"

I'm assuming this is supposed to read "Tight Ends" perhaps, instead of "Linebackers"?

Good grades, btw. I fully appreciate your Woodson analysis, I've been taking tons of flack for those same thoughts throughout the season.

packeraaron's picture

Huh. I re-read the post at least 10 times - and completely missed it. Thanks Oppy.

And thanks for the kind words as well.

Jay's picture

Also, in the Morgan Burnett section, "... Also effected by having to play," should be "affected." Otherwise, good thoughts

Oppy's picture

Effect/affect always bites me in the caboose

PackRat's picture

Three years ago we kept a bunch of fullbacks. Two years ago we couldn't get enough tight ends. Last year we spent our "extra" few coins on James Jones. DLs and DBs TT, DLs and DBs this year.

cow42's picture

Woodson worries me.

His play is obviously slipping... a definite concern seeing as the team currently has no one prepared to take his spot.

But it's his attitude/demeanor that I'll be keeping a very close eye on.

In the past he has shown to have some "issues". He's been a leader while the team has been successful and while he's basically been given a "green light" to go ahead and make plays (scheme-be-damned).

It will be interesting to see how he reacts to such things as being asked to move to safety or being told to gamble less.

Sure wish they had a young up-and-comer to slide in... kinda feel like this could be a "better to get rid of a guy a year too early" sort of situation.

keeping my fingers crossed that he will put the 'needs' of the team above his own self-serving 'wants'.

Rocky70's picture

He's due a 4mil bonus in April along with 6.5 mil 2012 salary plus another 1 mil. roster bonus ---- His cap hit will be somewhere ranging from $10.5 to $11.5 mil. ----- Would be the highest paid Packer in 2012. Asking him to take a pay-cut seems unlikely. Also, complicating matters is his election as an All-Pro CB opposite Revis for season 2011. A real dilemma for TT/MM.

PackersRS's picture

Dead on.

Woodson is too slow to afford poor technique. He can't get away with it anymore.

He can still play effectively, and flat out dominate in some games. But unless we can get a steady pass rush from the front 7, he cannot gamble like he did this year. He'll still make plays, but the number of big plays allowed will outweight them more and more in this pace.

If the QB can take a 7 step drop and not be touched, Woodson will be burned with every double move.

That being said, I don't believe getting rid of him is a likely scenario. With all he brings to the table, he's still one of the best slot corners out there, and he's vital to our system. If he decides to tackle properly and play with good leverage, he allows us to play nickle most of the time.

Idiot Fan's picture

McGinn's analysis of the numbers for the Packer season was eye opening for me. I was always on the "this can't all be due to losing Jenkins" bandwagon, but according to McGinn, both CM3 and the linebackers as a whole provided pretty much the same amount of pressure as 2010, but the Dline provided significantly less pressure. All that's to say, I'm in agreement with the grade on Matthews. Some see it as a down year; I think it was just a down year for his supporting cast.

Lynn Dickey 12's picture

After seeing Pat Lee v. Detroit I'd have to give him an F along with a pink slip.

Jeremy's picture

Pat Lee is one of the Packers best players on special teams. But, I would agree that he play with his back to the football.

wgbeethree's picture

The B for Charles Woodson seems awfully generous to me, especially when comparing him to himself. He was often a liability in coverage this year. He allowed completions on nearly 2/3 of his targets had 9 penalties and was top 3 in missed tackles for corners. He still made a lot big plays but he gave them up too. I'd give him a C at best and if you we're grading him against himself it should probably be even lower than that. Hard to say about one of my favorite players, and I know this won't be popular, but he's due 11.5 million next year and his play on the field just wasn't anywhere near worth that this year IMO. Unless the team thinks his leadership is, or he restructures, we may have seen the last of him in Green Bay. Not something I want to happen but it's a possibility that needs to be considered. Moving him to safety is a possibility but that would effectively be making a 36 year old whose never played the position the highest paid safety in the NFL and I'm still not sure that's the best spot to put a player who likes to take as many chances as he does.

packeraaron's picture

I hear what you're saying. But the fact is he not only tied for the league lead in interceptions, he singled-handedly turned the tide of games with those picks. (see: Carolina) He is not the player he was, but he can still make huge plays. Also, you can't discount the fact that he is asked to do way more than most traditional cornerbacks. He had 74 tackles and two sacks to go along with seven interceptions. That's pretty good production.

The problem, as I wrote above, is too many of this teammates seem to think that's how to play the game. They aren't Charles Woodson. He is.

wgbeethree's picture

I agree that him playing closer to the line increases his changes for missed tackles so that may make that stat a bit misleading although I feel his tackling has regressed even in normal situations. I also agree that his style of play is "rubbing off" on his teammates which as you correctly stated IMO is not a good thing.
I just see an 11.5 million dollar cap hit next year, what I see as a lack of accountability (recent public complaining about the play calling and blaming personnel for the defense's struggles), regression in coverage, and age and see a player who is much more likely to be on the chopping block than most do.
Old, expensive, regressing (IMO), and a bad influence (IYO) isn't a real good combination in my eyes.

Oppy's picture

11.5 Million dollars next season? Yikes, that can't be right, can it??

Ugh.. How do you restructure a 36 year old players contract -who has a legacy like Charles Woodson's- in a way that makes sense for the team and seems palatable to a guy who's due 11.5 million dollars?

Man, this could be a tough deal to seal.

Red Hawk's picture

I thought the 2010 defense showed what could happen when several players have a career year all at the same time, along with a defensive coordinator who was hot calling blitzes at the right moment. Now after the career year, some of those players got rewarded and production fell off, they're not so hungry. Others have regressed, Woodson has shown everything everyone has mentioned above. Maybe Woodson should walk.

Franklin Hillside's picture

Good lord.

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