Labeling the defense the Green Bay Packers run as a 3-4 is kind of a misnomer.
They spend far less time in their base defense of three defensive lineman and four linebackers than they do their subpackages, primarily the nickel package where they substitue a defensive lineman to get an extra defensive back on the field.
With high-powered passing offenses dominating the NFL, it’s necessary to get more secondary players on the field, but perhaps the Packers did it a little too often in 2011.
It might have been part of the reason they gave up among the most passing yards in NFL history and finished near the bottom of the NFL in sack efficiency.
Of course, with such an explosive offense of their own, giving up yards by the bushel was partially due to teams playing catch-up with the Packers.
Regardless, it looks like changes are in store for the Packers defense, according to head coach Mike McCarthy while meeting with the media at the NFL’s owners meeting on Wednesday morning in Palm Beach, Fla.
“I always go back to the fundamentals,” McCarthy told Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “We were not a very good tackling team last year. That will change. Those are the things we’re clearly focused on, situation defense, how much you’re playing base and stuff. There’s a whole list of secondary things we want to change the vision of how we look and how we play. Frankly, we were so explosive on offense, maybe we weren’t ready, maybe we went to too much sub. These are the things we went back to… we played so much sub defense that last couple of years, we’d like to get back to playing more base and doing some of the things this defense was built on.”
The Packers knew heading into the offseason they need help on the front seven on defense, particularly at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and on the defensive line where they never could adequately replace the production of Cullen Jenkins who left via free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Those are two positions that are responsible for providing much of the pass rush in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.
More active than they’ve been in free agency in years, the Packers appear to be researching every avenue for help in the front seven.
They signed defensive lineman Daniel Muir to add to the defensive line last week and are courting at least two other free agents.
The Packers had Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove in for a free agent visit last week and will be bringing in New York Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson for a visit beginning on Thursday, according to several media outlets.
That’s in addition to flirting with linebacker Manny Lawson before he ultimately decided to re-sign with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The other avenue the Packers have of bolstering their defense is through the Draft in April, and with 12 draft at their disposal, they have plenty of ammunition to add new defensive lineman and linebackers.
Only B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett are sure things to see heavy playing time on the defensive line in Green Bay.
With Mike Neal suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy for the first four games of the 2012 season and Howard Green still unsigned as a free agent, there’s an opportunity for any defensive lineman to see plenty of playing time if McCarthy holds true to playing more out of his base 3-4 defense more often.
Players like Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson have been average during their time in Green Bay, although there’s always a chance the light bulb will go on as they mature. And perhaps even a player like Lawrence Guy could surprise. Guy was a seventh-round draft choice of the Packers last year who spent the entire year on injured reserve after sustaining a concussion in training camp.
Whether it’s the holdovers or the rookies, it appears there will be increased opportunities for defensive linemen in 2012.