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Ever-Evolving Packers Still Trying to find Their Identity on Defense

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Ever-Evolving Packers Still Trying to find Their Identity on Defense

You won't be able to win very many games or one-on-one match-ups on the defensive side of the ball if your group isn't able to create turnovers. That was illustrated by the Packers' 10 turnovers through their first 10 games, well below the league average at the time. During that span, the they plundered to a disastrous 4-6 record. Behind the once-hot Vikings and underdog Lions.

Since somehow managing to flip their season around with quarterback Aaron Rodgers commandeering the ship, the Packers have managed to win four straight and currently hold the sixth seed in the NFC Wild Card race. 

Four straight wins accompanied by 13 turnovers, already toppling their mark set through the beginning stretch of their season. To appease the superstitious crowd, the Packers forced 11 turnovers through their final four games of the 2010 campaign, in which they went on to capture their 13th World Championship and Fourth Super Bowl title.

It's clear that creating turnovers will be the picturesque formula for the Packers, not just in their final two games, but if they hope to engineer a potential playoff run as well. They'll be up against the NFC's best and may get a heavy dosage of the NFC East for the second time in 2016. It's likely they would face the New York Giants in an early round and if all goes well, they'd return to Dallas for the first time since 2013 to face the presumed number one seed in the Cowboys.

The secondary that will be the key to such a cluster of scenarios is spear-headed by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is currently tied amongst all safeties with five interceptions. He also just earned his first Pro Bowl selection along with teammates Rodgers and right guard T.J. Lang. 

To aid Clinton-Dix in his efforts to keep this seemingly cursed defensive unit afloat, he'll need strong outings from a duo of corners in Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins — both of which were expected to do big things in 2016, but fell flat with allegedly sloppy technique and what seemed to be bi-weekly appearances on the injury report. His safety counterpart, Morgan Burnett, has also had himself a quiet, but efficient season; his seventh.

Burnett, now dubbed as the veteran in a defensive backs corps sans Sam Shields, is tied for third on the team in interceptions with just two, however, leads in tackles with 61. He's earned more opportunities to play closer to the line of scrimmage in his new hybrid role as a versatile inside linebacker, giving him a chance to play both in coverage and aid the defensive front as an extra man occupying the box.

Forcing these turnovers resides on the efforts of the pass rush, which has been sub-par in recent weeks, particularly against the Bears on Sunday. Quarterback Matt Barkley had more than enough time to fire dots across Soldier Field into the sub-optimal coverage up en route to 362 yards passing.

On the flip side, the Packers have an eighth-ranked turnover margin per game with +0.4, tying them with Baltimore, New England, Dallas and Miami. Their +3.3 margin in their last three games is an NFL-best, and the next available suitor isn't even in the same vicinity. Their turnover differential is +5 on the season, putting them into a three-way tie with Dallas and Miami once more. It's good for another eighth-best ranking.

Taking into account where the Packers were when they started the season in terms of interceptions, it's hard to see where they sit now. Their seat is pretty at 16 interceptions, ranked second-best in the league behind only San Diego's 17. They're nestled into a four-way tie with Miami, Carolina and Baltimore. It helps the Chargers that they have former Packers' cornerback Casey Hayward, who spent a majority of his time in Green Bay as a slot corner. After letting him walk over the offseason, Hayward has gone on to have his best year as a professional, leading the league amongst all defensive backs with seven interceptions, good enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth.

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Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV. He's the voice of The Leap on iTunes and can be heard on The Scoop KLGR 1490 AM every Saturday morning. He's also a contributor on the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (21) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Horse's picture

More like they're trying to make do with what's left, well enough to win.

Chad Lundberg's picture

The Casey Hayward ordeal is completely hindsight, and for that reason alone, I don't blame Ted for letting him go at all.

But as far as hindsight ordeals go, this one has to be one of the worst. Really really wish there was someway to see that this would happen. Just a darn shame, especially with how Shields is now done.

That said, as long as Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and Ladarius Gunter can learn to play more consistently, we should be fine. They need to play with the same effort as they did against Seattle.

Nick Perry's picture

I don't know about that Chad. To me several fans said things about Hayward after he was signed away to make themselves feel okay about losing him.

"He can't tackle" or "He can't play outside" or "He's not fast enough" were the reasons I heard the most. Haywards tackling was just fine in 2014 and 15, he improved in that area significantly. He was certainly worth the $15.3 Million over 3 years with $6.8 guaranteed the Chargers gave him.

"He can't play outside". Really, have you watched any Chargers games this season? Hayward almost ALWAYS plays outside, normally lined up against the opponents #1 WR. Last week he held Amari Cooper to one catch. Hayward has 7 Interceptions and 26 passes defensed. Not to bad for a guy who can't play outside or isn't fast enough.

I think it's more Dom Capers Defense than the players playing CB for the Packers. Capers Defense wore out it''s welcome after the first 3 seasons, just like it has over the last 30 plus years of his career. I also think having a guy named Charles Woodson playing CB for him helped a bit. How many years do we need to see the Packers be unable to defend the middle of the field to see Capers time has passed. How many times do we have to watch Rodgers on the sideline barely able to watch as his Defense give up leads he's built up?

Thompson dropped the ball by letting Hayward walk. He counted on 2 rookies to make the 2nd year jump and another CB who's not once played an entire season with a concussion history. The 2nd and 3rd year jump is a wonderful thing...When it happens. When it doesn't or the players needs a 3rd year to make the jump games like last Sunday happen. 300 plus yards to a 3rd string QB...

WKUPackFan's picture

The further problem with letting Casey walk is that it betrays the draft and develop concept. And you're exactly right Nick, all those things were said about Casey: too slow, too injured, can't play outside, his 6 rookie interceptions were thrown right to him, etc. Oh well, split milk now.

How about those Hilltoppers?! Crushed Memphis last night, RB Ace Wales ran wild again!

Nick Perry's picture

LOL!!!! I watched part of the game and thought about you a few times. I knew you were LOVING THAT!!

Right with you on the D & D part of it. That secondary could have used Haywards experience with or without Shields out there. A lot to be said about experience.

WKUPackFan's picture

Thanks for thinking about me, loved every bit of it!

Spud Rapids's picture

It all came down to what the Packers pegged is contract worth at based off his play and injury concerns. I liken him to Nick Perry... They both had injury concerns and flashed at times but Perry's price tag was affordable and worth it according the Packers assessment. No one knows a player better than the team that drafted them. TT wasn't willing to pay for Hayward when you have younger talent playing at a similar level.

Ask yourself this... at the end of last season who would have a better year, Hayward or Randall, I bet 95% of you would have said Randall. It's all hindsight

Nick Perry's picture

Hayward had injuries ONE season Spud. It comes down to one thing, HOPE ball. Thompson is always looking to save a buck anywhere he can, sometimes to the detriment of his team for the following season or even season's.

Randall was just fine last season, so was Hayward though and definitely worth the contract he was given.

WKUPackFan's picture

DPF - This post proves why you get so much grief. You refuse to see the evidence right in front of your eyes, and insult the other posters in the process. Saying ridiculous things like Hayward "made zero plays" doesn't make you look smart, or help your cause. It just makes you appear to be petty.

Tanner's picture

So the opinion of one person proves your point? Give me a break. If we want to play that game, Pro Football Focus ranked Hayward as one of the best cover corners in the league in 2015.

Being condescending is always unattractive. Being condescending when you don't know a thing is simply embarrassing.

Nick Perry's picture

Thanks WKU... DPF only does this crap to a few peoples comments, me being one of them. His rear end is still hurting for saying Montgomery wasn't a RB when the entire Football World disagrees with this!!!!

Did you notice last Sunday and Monday he was nowhere to be found in the comments, at least not like he normally was when Monty proved again DPF was wrong about him..

RCPackerFan's picture

I have been waiting to see an "I'm sorry I was wrong" type of comment.

Still waiting...

Nick Perry's picture

LOL....It's not going to happen RC. But you do realize the first time Montgomery is stuffed or has a bad game we'll get pounded with "I told you so" after every one of our comments here.

Tanner's picture

Wrong, as always.

croatpackfan's picture

I'm glad that Casey earned every cent from his contract. I'm also glad that Packers have better record than Chargers. Chargers are already out of postseason! To me it says all.
And with so nice Casey Chargers are 29th in points per game (they allows 26.1, worse are NO, Cleveland and SF!), while, without Casey, Packers sits at 22nd place (24.2).
So, I do not think that Casey brought that much to Chargers and took away that much from Packers. Do not forget that Packers lost their No 1 CB and Chargers are with full hand of CB!

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

What DPF wrote, just phrased more nicely.

WKU - thought of you when I heard your team won. Congratulations!

I think TT arguably erred in his execution of draft and develop when he let Hayward walk, rather than betraying the concept. He let Hayward walk because he did not think Hayward would be a core player in GB. Since I agree with DPF - zone only, non-physical player - I don't think Hayward would have done well in GB. In hindsight, he'd be miles better than Goodson (I had a post on the "Goodson effect" if you happened to see it), but that is hindsight. I thought Hayward was worth about $3M AAV in GB. I thought he was worth more than the $5M AAV he got to some other team, just not GB, so I supported letting him walk. Oh, well.

Since '61's picture

The identity of this Packers defense appears to be, play with a lead and force turnovers. At least that's what it has been over the last 4 games. The Bear game proved that for this defense to be successful they need a consistently strong pass rush to help out our CBs. Without Shields our CBs have become the weak link in our defense. However, Gunther may be coming on strong, we'll see how he holds up against Minny and the Lions. In any case we need to get after the QB like we did against Wilson. Upcoming games against Bradford and Stafford should help the pass rush since neither are very mobile QBs although Stafford can move better than Bradford. I hope that the identity of this defense evolves into, solid against the run with a strong pass rush and creates turnovers. If that happens this defense and this team can go a long way. It's interesting to me that while there is probably less than a 1% chance it will happen the Packers still have a shot at the #2 seed and a bye. If the Packers win out and go 10-6 and the Falcons lose out to go 9-7 and Seattle loses out to go 9-6-1 (extremely unlikely), the Packers would be the #2 seed in the NFC. That would be miraculous after all that's happened this year. However, with Seattle having to play 2 marshmallows in their last 2 games I don't see any miracles like that happening. But, you never know. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

PETER MAIZ's picture

I agree with you, since 61, you know your football. It really depends on that front line pressuring the quarterbacks in order to give the Packers cornerbacks some relief. I've heard that the Vikings' O-line s a bit porous but have no idea about Detroit's. I know Stafford loves throwing those long ones. If we can't pressure Stafford, it may be a long day.

Handsback's picture

Look, the site needs a steady hand and it won't always be perfect. I've talked to Jersey Al many years ago when he was a big part of Packer Chatters. He's knows the game and the team. He may not be perfect, but he'll do the best he can.

PETER MAIZ's picture

Where is Casey when you really need him? Shining in San Diego like the San Diego sun is where.
I agree with Nick. The second year jump of Randall and Rollings was strictly theoretical. The pass coverage gives our big guy Rodgers the creepies as he sees his magical work go down the drain as the defense just sinks to the bottom, as Nick states. And to make matters worse, the defensive front line can't pressure just now, whether it's to injuries or whatever factor.
And I would agree this is on Dom's shoulders and also Ted's as he expected two baby cornerbacks to beat and hold back seasoned and experienced wide receivers. Many football minds are of the opinion that cornerback is the most difficult position to learn.
And so Chicago puts up 17 points faster than I could drink my beer. I don't want to be a naysayer but when things have got to be fixed, they have got to be fixed, no ifs buts or maybes.
And if my memory serves me correctly, have we not had this discussion years prior?

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I don't think the identity of this defense is turnovers. The comparison to the 2010 team is inapt. That team actually baited QBs and forced turnovers with physical play. The 2016 teams has gotten some turnovers, but most of them were not forced or earned. Some were earned: Dix rotating over to the sideline for an INT; Randall in zone with the INT to prevent a TD against Seattle; Peppers' strip sack. Most of the others were simply terrible plays by the opposing team.

I'd also say that we did not need a 2nd year jump from Randall and Rollins, though it would have been nice. If they had been healthy and played as well but no better than their rookie years, we'd have been okay.

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