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Cory's Corner: Defense Comes Down To The 'Smith Show'

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Cory's Corner: Defense Comes Down To The 'Smith Show'

The Packers proved they saw enough with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. 

The edge rushers that combined for 17 years in Green Bay exited stage right. Matthews wasn’t re-signed and Perry was released. 

And that’s where Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith come in. Both were signed as free agents on March 14 to bolster a defensive front seven and give some needed relief to the back end. 

I have been screaming for Perry to go for awhile. It’s not just that he cannot stay healthy, even though he has only started 20 games the last two years. What concerns me is that all of the hopes and dreams for Perry were built off of one magical season in 2016.          

That season forced general manager Ted Thompson’s hand. He gave Perry a five-year, $60 million deal on March 9, 2017 even though Perry only averaged 3.1 sacks a year during his first four years. 

Matthews is a different story. He can still play in spurts, but his ability, or willingness, to play on the outside is nearly gone. He cannot consistently zoom around the edge anymore and hit unsuspecting quarterbacks. The only way Matthews would still be in a Packers uniform is if he agreed to play inside, because he’s going to be reduced to being a situational player for the Rams. 

So now it’s the Smith Show. Preston has started every game the last three years and looks to be an ascending player. Preston was tied for 13thamong all edge rushers last year with 38 hurries. Remember, sacks are fantastic, but hurries tell how consistent a player is at rushing the passer. As long as a defender can get a quarterback off his spot and force him to make a throw he doesn’t want to make, that’s a win for the defense. Za’Darius was tied for 24thamong edge rushers with 32 hurries last year, but has only started 16 games the last three years. 

If you’re wondering how many hurries Matthews and Perry tallied last year, it wasn’t good. Matthews had 19 and Perry had 10. 

In the NFL, you must have a quarterback and you must get to the quarterback. It’s that simple. You don’t have to get to the quarterback each and every time, but you at least have to make him uncomfortable.

It’s pretty fair to say that Matthews and Perry made opposing quarterbacks comfortable. Matthews was making business decisions, clearly afraid of hurting his value to injury in a contract year. And Perry didn’t look right. He was either out of position or was getting consistently beat one-on-one. 

The reason the Smiths must succeed is because the secondary is counting on them. The secondary will be much improved with Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage roaming everywhere from the safety position. Jaire Alexander will be the shutdown corner on one side, the X-factor will be the other corner. If the Smiths can generate solid pressure and make opposing quarterbacks look over their shoulder instead of looking downfield, then Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will have a field day. 

How the defense operates will ultimately come down to the Smiths. Many think it will be Kenny Clark or one of the safeties. Nope. It’s all about generating pressure and both of the Smiths have proven that they can do it.

They may not rack up the sack numbers next season, but they have to consistently get home. 




Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (52) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

EddieLeeIvory's picture

With Pettine & the talent on this defense, it's time this defense starts to get a reputation as both "great" & "physical".

It's time we start puttin a hurtin on opposing QBs.

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Lphill's picture

I like the changes but I don’t think Clay is done , he had very little help last season and played too many snaps plus the early bad calls didn’t help . I think he does well in LA .

Packerpasty's picture

I'm with you on that and I hope he does say he was dogging it and clearly afraid of hurting his value is B.S....CM3 always played hard when I watched...diminished skills through injury and age perhaps but not dogging it like this guy speculates...

SterlingSharpe's picture

Agreed. I really wanted to keep Clay. He will make some big plays for the Rams, and make us look bad for letting him go. He wanted to stay a Packer for life.

That said, I do like the Smith Bros and they are much younger. And while I will always say/admit I never would have taken Gary with that #12 pick, I am now glad we did because there's a chance he could be a stud.

fastmoving's picture

we cant look bad if you look at the contract he got in LA. no chance. Even if he makes some plays, whats not a given.

I like him a lot and he did what is the best for him. Dont know why you think he want to stay a Packer for life. But he underperformed his contract since 2014 anyway.

The Marathon Man's picture

He's lost too much to be an effective edge anymore. The OTs were getting into his body far too often last season and he couldn't get separation. That has more to do with physical skillsets than with whether he had enough help. Like Cory implied, CMIII would have been far more effective inside, where he could have operated in space and used his experience and instincts more effectively. I understand he didn't want to do that, and we'll see how he does in spot situations in LA. I'm guessing he won't be out on the edge very long.

Coldworld's picture

The Smiths with some support from Gary should unlock the likes of Clark and Daniels and allow those two to not need to be on the field so much. In addition, it should also make it easier to deploy lighter faster defenders behind the front.

Matthews was a very good player who to me seems not only to be aging, but to be of a type less suited to Pettine judging by the cast assembled this off season. He is neither fast enough for the ILB type we seem to be accumulating or powerful enough to play a role akin to that the Smiths are expected to fill.

This leaves me very curious as to how Pettine will use Martinez and, in the event of him being injured, who would be able to replace him or whether Pettine would change the approach instead. We do not have another ILB of his physical type that I am aware of. Matthews might have been the closest, ironically.

flackcatcher's picture

My assessment too. CM3 best position was on the inside, but that position is going away under the new one back pass happy NFL. (Man I really, REALLY Hate Rodger now) Some smart coach is going to revert to a 2 back scheme and have all those hybrids for lunch. But both CM3 and Perry's could not stay on the field either because of situational football, or in Perry's case, injuries. Packers defense under Pettine was outstanding when Perry anchored the edge, and then he got injured again.(sigh...) In a rebuild you pick your poison. We will have to see to this plays out this season.

Packer Dave's picture

Ty Summers is probably the closest thing we have to a thumper after Martinez, but being a 7th rounder isn't to inspiring should injury strike. His college highlight tape looks like he could be a Martinez with wheels if he can fix his missed tackling issues.

dobber's picture

The problem with guys who can cover a lot of ground--much like rangy middle infielders--is that they can get to a lot more plays than the average player can which frequently means that the number of 'almosts' goes up proportionately.

Coldworld's picture

He is a good tackler but he is not really built to do what Martinez does. That’s the conundrum, who other than Martinez is?

Of last year’s players, might be that Fackrell is the closest physically.

Turophile's picture

@Packer Dave and @Dobber.
I'm still keeping an eye out to see if Kendall Donnerson practices as an ILB.

Sure his main job is likely to be ST, but with his elite measurables he would have rare range at 6'3", 250lb, 4.48 speed. The only limitation on Donnerson is how instinctive he could become at that position and there is no real depth there. If he gets the mental part down he has special potential.

Maybe the Packers coaches see him only as an OLB........we will see.

The Marathon Man's picture

Everyone forgets we still have Fackrell to go with the Smiths and Gary.....

Ryan B Dub's picture

Would have been nice to have Matthews as an ILB for depth alone. This defense just may take shape this year, and be good at sports.

dobber's picture

With Gary, 2 Smiths, and a Fackrell, I think they have plenty of rotational bodies to support ILB...especially on passing downs.

Freezn's picture

Mike Pettine will be able to rotate in his pass rush with fresh boddies pounding apposing offensive lines and having the apposing quarterbacks running for their lives. The packers will have a nasty attitude with the Smiths leading the way teaching Gary to play like them

jannes bjornson's picture

Matthews hit the wall after game eight. Legs are not there. He does not want to play the middle, period. He's not built like his dad and he didn't expand his repertoire to get to the QB without a speed/pile driver move.
He may get 5-6 sacks as a DPR for Wade Phillips, we'll see?

blacke00's picture

This defense is being built around what Pettine wants/needs. He is getting is wishes. If he thinks he needs additional pieces I think he will get them (to be determined over the next couple months.

By the middle of 2019 his defense should start coming into its own. Assuming no multiple catastrophic injuries.
If the defense doesn't come around it will be squarely on Pettine's head with Gute right behind.

This is not La Fleur's baby it's Pettine's. There will be no excuses.

That being said I think the Pack's D will do fine. Just be aware of where the responsibility lies

Samson's picture

A hurry can be more beneficial than a sack. -- Many picks result from QBs who throw errant passes because of the being flushed from the pocket & hurried. -- A sack only results in lost yardage & down (except for a strip sack & recovery).
Besides a new regime in 2019, the change from CM3/Perry to the Smiths is big for the "D".

My guess is that the "D" will finish top-ten by seasons end. -- Book it!

Ezra's Hotdog's picture

Hurried - pressured as in Howard Green driving his man back into Roethlisbergers face forcing a bad throw which turned into a pick-6 for Nick Collins.

dobber's picture

The Packers last season were break-even on +/-, and that was with an offense that only threw 4 INTs and gave the ball away 15 times total.

League average for takeaways last season was 22...add 7 takeaways to last season and who knows how this team finishes. 15 takeaways for a defense is totally unacceptable, and is a huge part of the reason this team finished 6-9-1 a year ago.

Since '61's picture

Agree Dobber, cookie for you! And yet many blame Rodgers for last season’s failures. Thanks, Since ‘61

jannes bjornson's picture

The Many are called ,but few are be true fans. Tea shades and kool-aid doesn't get the job done. It was painful watching that D the past four years. I have a better feeling about Pettine's group this year.

Nick Perry's picture

Not only did we get better, much better at OLB with "The Smiths" but we also improved the LB coaching spots both inside with Kirk Olivadotti and outside with Mike Smith. That's a far cry from Winston Moss. McCarthy kept coaches around far to long who didn't perform. These are both proven NFL coaches with RECENT success.

Since '61's picture

Nick, excellent point about the improvement in the LB coaches. Better players and better coaches should be a win/win. After too long a period of time, I am finally looking forward to watching our defense again.
Thanks, Since ‘61

Nick Perry's picture

Thanks Since '61... Even though Olivadotti will be coaching the ILB he spent the last 4 seasons coaching the OLB group in Washington and more specific Preston Smith. During his time in Washington his defenses have been top 10 8 times...Not to shabby.

Mike Smith Just helped Dee Ford turn in his best season with 13 sacks and 7 forced fumbles.

Coaching CAN'T be overlooked IMO. I think that was at least part of the reason CMIII dropped so quickly after 2010. No more Kevin Greene. Matthews got screwed for DPOY in 2010 and Greene was a huge part of Matthews success.

Since '61's picture

The combined losses of Greene, Cullen Jenkins, Bishop and Collins within less than a season hurt our defense for a long time. Add in the loss of Woodson a little later and here we are 7 seasons later and we’re still trying to recover. Thanks, Since ‘61

Nick Perry's picture

Awesome point Since '61. I guess I forgot just how quickly all of that came unraveled.

Since '61's picture

Thanks Nick. Letting Jenkins go and not actively replacing Collins via FA were the beginning of TTs many poor decisions from 2011 on. I still wonder what TT was saving cap space for year after year. Thanks, Since ‘61

jannes bjornson's picture

Along with poor drafting od replacements. Question is why would you replace a HOF guy like Woodson when he transitioned to Safety in Oakland and played at a probowl level. Austerity again, NOT, leading to prosperity.
They knew Burnett was not a playmaker and Dix couldn't make a play on the two-point conversion in the lost cause by the space needle.

Tundraboy's picture

"Coaching CAN'T be overlooked IMO. "

Don't we know it. Have seen both sides of that coin. As Since 61 said, I am especially looking forward to watching the defense.

LambeauPlain's picture

Your observation about the coaching horsepower for the ILBs and especially the OLBs is spot on.

Sir Winston Moss was coaching the OLBs the last several years and before that he was "coaching up" the ILBs that were gashed week after week, year after year.

Mike Smith and Kirk Olivadotti will bring tremendous synergy to Pettine's coaching team.

I know as fans we like to focus on the Offense but I think the talk of 2019 will be the D and the vastly improved STs.

4thand1's picture

If W Moss was half as cracked when he was coaching as in pressers, no wonder the LBers were F---ed.

Packerpasty's picture

"Clearly afraid of hurting his value"....screw you, thats unfair B.S. I saw a guy playing hard when he was in there...

Coldworld's picture

I agree, at least during the time the season was still in play Matthews was his usual all out self. The refs didn’t help and nor did the rules or the lack of talent behind him, but he undoubtedly played hard, sometimes a little too hard.

As to when the season was dead, he shouldn’t have been playing much if at all, so I don’t blame him. Nothing against Joe Philbin, but the powers that be holding it out as an audition for the HC job was a farce that led to us wasting the chance to blood youth and get them experience while testing their mettle against NFL starters. Playing Matthews and others was a wasted opportunity and, for a veteran professional, rather like preseason. Could have rolled him out in last Lambeau game for a quarter to let him say farewell.

Truly poor leadership by Murphy and whomever else and a truly poor comment in this article Cory.

flackcatcher's picture

As fans we are only beginning to see the depth of the damage Murphy did to the front office and player personal. IAM has a lot of work to do here. Giving the anger coming from and within 1265, and the heavy hitters in Brown County, and Green Bay proper, the executive committee may be in for a large number of changes. Of course that does nothing to undo the damage done. We fans can only hope that GUTE's drafts and free agent signing hit the mark over the coming years.

jannes bjornson's picture

Flack, hit the bullseye. It would be helpful if Murphy moved on.

Since '61's picture

Good pass defense begins with a strong, consistent pass rush. We have not had one for a long time. If the Smiths, plus Clark, Daniels and Gary can generate a strong pass rush, get QBs to move off their spot and become uncomfortable in the pocket this defense will finally get off the field on 3rd downs. Plus our DBs will gain confidence and the picks and passes defended will increase.

We need players who not only generate the pass rush but stay healthy and on the field. Perry could not stay on the field and was ineffective when he was on the field and CM3 just could not get the job done any longer.

Hopefully there are better days ahead for our front 7 and our defense as a whole. Go Pack Go.
Thanks, Since ‘61

jannes bjornson's picture

Lowry hold s his edge and provides push, Montravious should show up as Keke provides competition for his snaps. Lancaster hold the nose against the run. Not bad in the depth department. The wildcard is Roberts, the OLB from Baylor. He should push for a pass rusher job.

Nick Perry's picture

"The wildcard is Roberts, the OLB from Baylor"

Why is a UDFA OLB who plays the same position as R Gary, the 12th player in the entire draft the wildcard?

I'm not trying to be critical of you James, just don't understand why HE'S the wildcard is all.

jannes bjornson's picture

I believe he will push Gilbert and/or Donnerson for one of the backup spots. A heavy rotation of pass rush, especially as the Playoffs near can only help the cause. They did'nt give him the bonus money to sit on the bench and risk being snagged off the waiver wire.

Coldworld's picture

I think Gilbert is on the outside looking in. He is neither a Smith/Gary build or that of Fackrell. Donnerson is very close to Fackrell in terms of height and weight just faster but much more raw. He is likely competing to back up Fackrell as a situational rusher and cover/edge contain type on passing downs primarily. Roberts would be trying to dislodge a DE/OLB type.

jannes bjornson's picture

I may be overly optimistic regarding Roberts, just gleaning information from some of the scouts feedback. He can go the three to five tech, but some see him standing up as a pass rushing OLB. The more competition the better.

holmesmd's picture

Fackrell has one good situational season. Why is everyone inking the guy in for snaps. I predict he won’t replicate his numbers from last year and I’m not sure he won’t be possibly even traded if he doesn’t have a very good TC. It was good that he got schemed home a bunch last year in essentially 3 games against crappy OL’s. Let’s not put him in Khalil Mack territory quite yet!

jannes bjornson's picture

Maybe he come with rush from the inside standing up as Matthews did for Pettine. He's a guy they developed, let him play. They need four bonafide rush guys to work the rotation.

Since '61's picture

Jannes - I Agree with your post except for the statement about Roberts. If he sticks around I see him going to the PS at best, given the depth that we currently have ahead of him. Thanks, Since ‘61

LambeauPlain's picture

CMIII used to draw consistent double teams...even a occasional triple. He can’t even get off single blocks any more and more often than not in 2018 ended up as a spectator during plays.

Perry was just a lousy investment as a 1st rounder and a head scratching waste of $60 M after one decent year.

The lack of sacks is one thing...but Cory pointing out the two only generated 29 QB hurries last year is jaw dropping.

Mr. and Mr. Smith had 70!

Throw in Gary and Fackrell into the mix while Clark, Daniels, Lowery (who I think is underrated), and maybe Keke (who I think might be a steal as a 5th rounder) disrupting up front along with Martinez....maybe Burks/Jones and the Packer D front 7 may be again be feared by opposing QBs.

The Packer DBs may have a very good year!

Coldworld's picture

Well, Perry was not on the field. Who else did teams have to defend? No one in the LB corps beyond Matthews. Not Fackrell, his use as a situational rusher is indicated by him having one more pressure than sacks. The bulk of the rest were from blitzes that Matthews, Clark, Daniels etc helped open the gate for.

stockholder's picture

I'm on board with the Smiths. Full Time guys were needed for years. But I believe the Packers could switch to the 4-3-4 now. To get the most out of the Smiths, Kekke and Gary. I believe it's time to switch.

Lare's picture

When you devote as much salary cap resources to these guys as Gutekunst did, they better stay healthy and perform.

At any rate, they should produce more than Perry & Matthews did. The Smiths and Gary are part of the solution, Matthews and Perry were part of the problem.

flackcatcher's picture

More like the lack of depth than anything else last year. I can only hope both Smiths can stay healthy next season.

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