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Packers Not Getting Enough Production from Outside Linebacker Position

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Packers Not Getting Enough Production from Outside Linebacker Position

Outside linebackers are the freaks of a 3-4 defense, the kind that usually defy convention and escape categorization as they enter the NFL.

They're the college defensive ends that are too small and quick to remain in a three-point stance at the next level and the linebackers too big and strong to play off the line of scrimmage.

Outside linebackers in the 3-4 are the playmakers of the defense, those asked to harass opposing quarterbacks and get the most sacks on the team. And if they don't sack the quarterback, they must hurry them, pressure them or flush them out of the pocket.

One of the biggest problems for the Packers this season is that they haven't gotten that kind of production out of their outside linebackers. And that's not necessarily an indictment of the players or the coaches (although the rookie OLBs have been M.I.A.), it's part of the larger injury epidemic on the team.

Reality is, the Packers defense operates at peak efficiency when Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are on the field at the same time with Mike Neal and Andy Mulumba playing on a situational basis or occasionally spelling the starters.

Instead, Matthews has missed four full games, half of another and might as well have missed the game he wore a club cast on his hand. His cohort Perry has missed five full games and parts of a few others with a broken bone in his foot and an ankle injury further complicating matters.

Matthews and Perry have been plenty effective when healthy and when on the field at the same time. Evidence points to Matthews leading the team with six sacks, and Perry appeared to be coming into his own before going down with a broken foot, coming up with three sacks before succumbing to injury.

With a pair of former first round draft picks relegated to the sidelines, Neal has been thrust into a starting role when he's better suited to a reserve one.

It's not as Neal has played poorly. It's impressive that he's been able to make the transition to a new position while transforming his body from roughly 295 lbs. to 275, at least according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But proving problematic for Neal is having to operate in space with a body that's built for playing in a phone booth.

Neal is most effective when able to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback as his team-leading 28 quarterback hurries can attest, a dozen more than the next closest player (defensive lineman Mike Daniels with 16), per ProFootballFocus.com.

As suggested by a follower on Twitter, however, Neal is the king of almost getting to the quarterback. Despite the 28 hurries, he's third on the team with 10 quarterback hits and has just three sacks.

Worse yet is when Neal has to chase a running back to the sidelines or drop into coverage. He's second on the team with 10 missed tackles this season (also according to ProFootballFocus.com), three less than inside linebacker A.J. Hawk who's played in excess of 160 more snaps than Neal in 2013.

If Matthews and Perry were healthy, the job of defensive coordinator Dom Capers becomes much easier, able to insert Neal in certain down-and-distance situations or when the opponent trots out particular personnel groupings that gives Neal a better chance to succeed.

Not helping matters are the contributions of rookies Mulumba and Nate Palmer, who have combined to play exactly 400 snaps this season but have yet to register a single sack.

Both were kept on the roster at the expense of Dezman Moses, who chipped in four sacks as an undrafted rookie in 2012.

The Packers have been mired in a four-game winless streak since Aaron Rodgers has been injured, but it's been the defense that's let the team down over the past month.

Maybe the fortunes of the Green Bay defense will change now that Matthews is back to being able to use his fingers in a fiberglass cast and Perry is back to practicing this week in preparation of Thursday's Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (69) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

jmac34's picture

Perry was not only a huge loss to the pass defense but he was also a huge loss to the run defense. He was able to hold the edge way better than neal ever has and it has shown the last few weeks

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, you said that exactly right.

When Mathews went got hurt they moved Perry to his side and he made a huge impact.

Right now Neal should be a rotational guy, not a starter. That is the difference.

Lou's picture

Agreed, Perry holds the edge consistently and the record shows that most of Mathews sacks came early last season when Perry was playing opposite him. In addition the run game with Perry and Jolly playing had a solid 4 game sequence of stopping the run. Perry was just coming into his own as a rusher when he got hurt again as well - unlike Neal he was "getting there". The real key to drafting results at OLB is that they are trying to get proto-type athletes who were playing DE with their hand down in college (Neal - Lattimore his first few years - Datone Jones now on occasion) or a physical specimen like Mulumba with little experience or a D II talent like Palmer. Next time they need a D I OLB who has excelled at that position, no more "projected" OLB's, the results of experimenting are negative across the board.

Stroh's picture

Very few college teams play a 34. So finding good 34 OLB means projecting college DE's as stand up players. Matthews was an anomaly since he was a late bloomer who was a safety then as he matured he got a lot bigger and had to move to LB. He played a hybrid role at USC where he played a DE/LB role, sometimes standing others in a 3 point stance. His background is unique and really helped prepare Matthews to playing in space and having the skills to do everything a 34 OLB needs. Its unlikely your going to find any ready made 34 OLB coming from the college ranks like Matthews did.

Morgan Mundane's picture

Seems like all we do these days is talk about this weakness of that. Its been all season: dbacks can't cover or tackle aka 2012 season as well; still no effective pass rush and our defensive end play stopping the outside run is non existant. All things that do not make for a playoff contender.
The last three drafts for Ted Thompson has contributed nothing to the improvement of this team.
Our nemesis the Vikes with two rookie pro bowlers, and maybe a third rookie pro bowler this year, will not be sitting quiet next year. They are one decent QB from dominating the packers for years to come.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Who are the Vikings pro bowl rookies?

Evan's picture

Don't even bother, RC...dude just copy/pastes that gibberish.

RC Packer Fan's picture

This defense is completely different with a fully healthy Mathews and Perry.

But I do blame Capers for not coming up with some various looks and blitzes, to try and make up for the lack of production at OLB.

He started to do that more when both Mathews and Perry were out, but since Mathews return we have seen fewer ILB, CB, and Safety blitzes.

I like an aggressive Capers more then a bend but don't break Capers...

Time for him to start throwing everything at offenses...

Evan's picture

Speaking of "throwing everything" at the other team, I bet we see a surprise onside or a fake FG/punt this week. This is a must-win and MM knows it.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, I wouldn't doubt at all if we see some sort of surprise trick play.

McCarthy is known to do it. Especially in big games. This would probably be the biggest game of our season to date...

TommyG's picture

defer the kick-off and go for an onside to start the game? I'd like to see MM have the guts to call that.

Evan's picture

That would be awesome. And definitely unexpected.

Barutan Seijin's picture

Dunno. Hasn't he done that before? Was it the playoff game vs. Arizona?

Cow42's picture

Who'da thought we'd be missing Moses and Walden?

Damn.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Well especially when we were down to our 3rd, 4h and 5th string OLB's...

@brucevoigt1's picture

Great analysis Brian. Fans tend to lay all the blame at Capers (and TT), but the injuries at the OLB position have been devastating.

razor's picture

In my opinion Perry is a bust. He is a one trick player who can't get to the QB and can't stay on the field. Packers spend way too much time trying to turn average players into something. Turning a C player into a B player ain't no great thing. For those who may disagree here's my deal. When a player gets off to a slow start and then can't stay healthy there is no production for the team. After a while it becomes impossible for that player to make up the lost production. And all the time the coaches have invested gets no payback.

So what about a discount for injuries. Agree they are part of the game but never the less, there is no production to help the team. It doesn't matter where or how the injuries occur, too many is too many and there is no production to help the team.

Think about the players who had injury problems in college that the Packers went ahead and drafted. Makes you wonder.

I'm real frustrated that the team has gone backwards since 2010 on defense, special teams, drafting and coaching.

Evan's picture

"Think about the players who had injury problems in college that the Packers went ahead and drafted. Makes you wonder."

Care to elaborate?

RC Packer Fan's picture

So do you consider Brian Bulaga a bust then as well? Considering he has went on IR the last 2 years.

Is Sherrod a bust since he broke his leg and has missed the last 2 years?

Injuries happen, doesn't make a player a bust.

Justin Harrell got hurt and basically never played again. He is considered a bust, but to me he isn't Thompson's worst pick ever. That would go to Brian Brohm who was horrible.

That is what I consider a bust. A player that just can't play in the league.

Cow42's picture

My definition of a bust refers to the production of the pick as opposed to the player himself.

So if a player is drafted highly and then fails to consistently produce (for whatever reason - ability, injury, etc.)... then "yes" that pick was a bust.

Is Bulaga a bust?

Yup.

Right now he is, because he was a first round pick that has failed to produce consistently. If he was a 6th rounder... not a bust.

Sherrod - bust.
Neal - bust.
Bulaga - bust.
Worthy - bust.
Perry - bust.

Can they "un-bust" themselves? Sure. But as of right now none of these players have consistently produced.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Just to further your definition of a bust. Who outside of the Packers do you consider a bust?

Do you consider RG3 a bust?

How about Justin Blackmon?

Is Aldon Smith a bust since he has had a number of suspensions and is not with the team right now? Or does his production he had while play outweigh that?

Cow42's picture

Bob Griffin is a bust.
Blackmon is a bust.
Smith not a bust.

Evan's picture

A definition so broad it renders the word meaningless. Basically, you're conflating the word "bust" with the word "injured."

Cow42's picture

Nope- just pointing out that injury should not provide bust-immunity.

4thand1's picture

as usual your dead wrong. A bust is a player who never lives up to his potential. You can't call it a bust because of and injury. Perry got hurt sacking a QB and forcing a fumble. Bulaga torn up his knee in pre-season. Bad misfortune but not bust.

Cow42's picture

Until a player produces for a meaningful amount of time they are a bust.

Both of those players are currently busts.

Barutan Seijin's picture

Semantics.

It doesn't matter if TT was right or wrong or somewhere in between about a guy, if they don't have better players than the other guys, they're not going to win.

Tundraboy's picture

I agree. Injuries this year have so bad its cruel and that is why you need to have depth and not at the expense of talent quality. At the end of the day defense , special teams, the coaching aggressiveness has gone backward . So frustrating to see Rodgers prime and this great opportunity go to waste. Were lucky to have him and are crazy not to make every effort to make the team great again now. I also have to get this off my chest. I have been a fan since I was a kid from 62 on. Saw the great times bad times, and mediocre quarterbacks until Farve and now Aaron, but I think it is f'd up that Capers is not on the field. There is really something wrong with that. Is this football or what, Coaches need to be on the field. Anyway as far as the Draft and develop approach it has worked. This team has more talent than it has had in a long time but not enough. So a FA or 2 is a must. Draft on defense other than Clay has been non existent, Need 2 true linebacker studs, safeties, and a TE . Loss of Collins and now Woodson and the ripple effect has exposed team over and over.

Just need to fix the D.

Al's picture

I feel like I've read this story before...

lebowski's picture

Seriously, which direction do we even go with the first couple rounds next year? We've taken OLBs that are constantly hurt; left tackles that are constantly hurt; and defensive tackles that are constantly hurt. Sucks big-time.

Derek in CO's picture

TE in round 1, safety in round 2, DL in round 3.

Evan's picture

I'd flip R1 and R2. They NEED a blue chip safety. With the other offensive talent on the team, they don't NEED a blue chip TE.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

2nd.

Tundraboy's picture

Exactly!!! Sure sucked to see Eric Reid in SF

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, I would agree with that.
They definitely need a TE and S high in the draft.
After that I would say they will need WR, DL, LB, and they always draft OL. They probably would take another CB as well... They like to draft CB's, which in todays league is smart.

Ruppert's picture

We need more out of all the LB positions, inside and outside. If Perry can stay healthy and Neal continues to progress (big "ifs", I know), I don't mind the OLB position.

The ILB position is in worse overall shape moving forward, IMO. I just hate Brad Jones. Hate him. This is Hawk's 8th year and he doesn't have any room at all to fall off.

madmanJack's picture

so if Aaron Rodgers starts getting the injury bug and doesn't consistently produce then , according to your definition, he will be a bust also.

i think you've contracted mad cow disease.

Evan's picture

Right now Rodgers is a bust...but he won't be in a few weeks. Or something.

Cow42's picture

Rodgers is not a bust because he has performed consistently. If this injury had happened his first year starting... he would have been a bust.

Longshanks's picture

Cow42, would you label yourself as a bust? Just curious?

Longshanks

Katsuya's picture

OLB has always been a thin position on this team, since switching to the e 3-4 . In 09 we might have had a nice pair in CM3 and Kampmann, but he tore his ACL and was never the same. In 2010-11 we had CM3 and two UFA's startig which was not enough. In 2012 TT finally spent another 1st rounder in Perry, but he's been injury prone so far. IMO TT hasn't spent enough picks on the olb position which is suppose to be one of the most importante positions in a 3-4. The defense at this point seems more suitable for a 4-3 defense, with all these de TT has drafted over the years, however Capers is too inflexible with his defense doesn't adjust well to the strengths of his players. When Matthews and Perry were hurt, he should have been calling more 4-3 packages with Neal and Datone playing de, but instead he plugs in ufa Mulumba and 6th rouner Palmer to rush the passer instead. Also our secondary is always playing confused in those soft zones, when they should he playing more physical at the line. I think its time to move on from Capers, and hire a DC that will run more of a multiple defense and put them in position to succeed rather than keep running crap that obviously doesn't work.

Archie's picture

You sir are exactly correct! Capers' has a system and fits the players to the system rather than the other way around. The problem is TT keeps drafting 4-3 type players and/or man coverage type DBs when the system wants to play zone.

DE N Perry
DT M Neal/M Daniels
DT BJ Raji/M Daniels
DE D Jones

OLB CMIII
MLB J Lattimore
OLB ????

Would you like the DC job?

Stroh's picture

We basically play a 43 70% of the time. When we go nickel w 2DT and Matthews and Perry rushing. Thats pretty much set in stone. Does switching to a true 43 make a lot of sense if it takes our best pass rusher out of full time pass rush? I don't think that makes much sense either.

Cow42's picture

Playing a 4-3 would help defend the run.
When defending the pass they aren't in either a 4-3 or 3-4.

I think this team has more 4-3 personnel than it does 3-4.

Stroh's picture

Against the pass we have more of a 43 look. With Perry and Matthews as edge rushers. 2 DT makes it very much a 43 look even if its not a true 43. However the way we are now also allows more versatility and can disguise who's coming easier than a true 43.

Matthews is in a role that best suits his ability as a pass rusher.

Jones wouldn't be a good edge rusher either. His film from college showed his pressures came from DT not an edge rusher.

Get a different 34 DC is fine, but I wouldn't change to a 43.

IMO next year put Matthews at LOLB on the strong side where he played in '10 and move Perry to ROLB where his pass rush seems to be better. Matthews showed he will excel on either side.

We had the #1 run D in '09 playing a 34. Just changing to a 43 doesn't automatically make the run D better!

RC Packer Fan's picture

Yeah, i agree with you Stroh, that they should stay with the 34 defense. I really like it, I just don't like how conservative Capers gets with it. And how he doesn't really use his players to their ability's.

I understand they try to achieve certain things schematically but that doesn't always get players to do what they do best. For example if McMillan is a really good blitzer have him play closer to the line and blitz him. I understand too that it can't happen all the time, but it puts him in a better position to succeed.
IMO Lattimore is better then Jones. If he doesn't want to remove Hawk and Jones from the field then take out Jennings and play 3 ILB's and have one play deeper. Or take out Neal and move those guys around, playing more of a 3-3 look.
We used to run the Psycho which put all of our best pass rushers on the field at the same time, and was used to confuse the offense. When is the last time we have ran that?
IMO, the coaches have to do a better job of putting players in positions to succeed.

My problem is Capers has went from a creative aggressive coordinator to a bend but don't break, lets react to what the offense does, defense.

I could see a different coordinator next year. But I don't see a different scheme.

The TKstinator's picture

I have heard TT say he just tries to pick good players and leave it to the coaches to plug them in.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I think Thompson has picked good players overall.

I just don't think the coaches have done a good enough job at times with certain players and putting them into the roles in which they could be best used in.

Some of it is the players, but some of it is coaching.

Overall though, we can't complain about the talent on this team. When healthy, they are a top 5 team almost yearly.

Bart's picture

I really like the Perry - Mathews combo but I just don't see them being on the field at the same time enough to make a real sustainable impact. Perry has to show he can play at least 10-12 games in season before I'll get too excited about him making much of a difference. Actually I would settle for 8 games as that seems like a stretch at this point.

Archie's picture

Agreed re: B Brohm - by far TT's worst draft pick ever given where he was drafted.

But, one has to admit, GB has got very little production from the first three rounds of the draft since 2010. That's why we are in the mess we are right now.

Next year should be better. Bulaga, Sherrod, Tretter and Harris. Not to mention AROD, Cobb and Hayward. Who knows about Perry. Injury prone and probably out of position. Question will be what FAs do we lose. Raji and Hawk need to go. Lattimore & Jones will be a better duo at ILB. We will be drafting in middle of R1 this year. That is a good place to draft from.

Barutan Seijin's picture

Don't forget Pat Lee, who TT drafted later in the 2nd round that same year.

Maybe not quite as bad as Brohm, but a lousy db all the same.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

A case could certainly be made for Bustin Harrell. He was after all a 1st rounder whereas BB was not. And he also - IIRC - was projected go later because he missed most of his last college season with an injury (biceps?). We all know how Ted feels about big, athletic dudes "the good lord just doesn't make that many of them", and that's true, but a case could be made that bustin, coming off injury was quite a reach in the middle of the first. Brohm at least had reels of impressive, uninjured tape that one could point to and somewhat understand how Ted (and a lot of "experts") got fooled.

In closing... They both sucked bag.

RunAndHyde's picture

Perry might have one trick ...but it works. He is legit...when healthy.

Archie's picture

Just having a bull rush is not enough to be a good pass rusher in the NFL. Look at CMIII - he's dynamic. Perry = one-dimensional and boring 90% of the time. Ditto Neal. Raji/Hawk = 100% boring. Secondary just seems dumb.

RunAndHyde's picture

Well his bull rush is ridiculous....the other stuff might be added to his game ..might not. And I agree with the round one SAFETY draft idea. (see my post a few days ago about Deone Bucannon from Washington State)

Stroh's picture

He wouldn't happen to be the son of Former Packers great CB Willie Bucannon would he?

RunAndHyde's picture

Whoa....is he? I have no clue...I just know he is a hitter/ball hawk.

RunAndHyde's picture

No...its not. Just YouTube Deone Bucannon..there is a 3 or 4 min highlight that is extremely impressive.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Be careful of those highlight videos, or at least have some salt on hand when viewing.

Stroh's picture

I agree Fitz. Going just by the highlite stuff it obviously makes them look great. That's why there called highlites. It more instructive to see tape that isn't just highlites. Gives you an idea how often they make plays and what happens on other plays. Plus you have to read what the scouting sites say to give you an idea of weaknesses. Bucannon from what Ive heard/read is a late 2nd or 3rd rd prospect at the moment. Tho his stock might be rising. Clinton Dix is easily the class of the safeties in this draft. Probably the only Safety w/ a 1st rd grade.

RunAndHyde's picture

Well im not a dumb dumb I do read as well. ClintonDix is the leader of the pack and I did watch his "highlights" too. Not to mention I watch him play all the time. I am just saying Bucannon is the better overall safety..you will see.

Stroh's picture

So RunandHyde. We should take your word over what the scouts who do this for a living have to say? I don't think so!

No question in anyone's mind who the best Safety is in this draft. Clinton Dix and its not even close. Last I checked Bucannon was rated about the 4th safety.

Are you gonna runandhyde when your proven wrong? Your no scout so quite acting like it.

4thand1's picture

Perry when healthy has made some impact plays. Just because he doesn't pile up 1 or 2 sacks every time he steps on the field doesn't mean he's not doing his job. He is a good run defender. Look at the rushing yardage other teams are piling up lately. My definition of bust is, bloggers who think they more than the professionals running a sports franchise. Easy to second guess when sitting behind a computer. I'll bet my house you would clam up if you came face to face with MM, Capers, or TT.

Cow42's picture

I'll assume you're talking to me.

Nope - I'd tell them they have a choice to make...
Step it up or get the hell out.
Can't continue to waste a player like Rodgers.

4thand1's picture

Liar

Stroh's picture

I bet you would clam up like what I think you are. A web troll who doesn't have the stones to tell people what he really thinks in person.

Cow42's picture

OK, tough guy.

RunAndHyde's picture

Probably my last post before the big game tomorrow. This game pretty much decides our season. It sucks that an injury to our qb put us in this situation but it is what it is. You are all probably as nervous as I am but maybe...just maybe the football gods help us out. Happy thanksgiving....and as always GO PACK GO!

Cow42's picture

The "football gods" are obviously pissed off at the Packers for some reason.

Doubt that anger has dissipated over the last 4 days.

They won't be happy until the Pack has hit rock bottom.

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