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On The Defense: 2011 Sparked Defensive Change, but what can 2016 Bring?

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On The Defense: 2011 Sparked Defensive Change, but what can 2016 Bring?

Unless you're the 1991 Buffalo Bills or the 2008 Arizona Cardinals, there's almost no way you'll be seen very far in the postseason with a bottom-five defense.

Both of those aforementioned teams went on to lose their respective Super Bowl match-ups, in case that was an unknown fact.

After finishing their regular season 15-1 after a 13-0 start, the 2011 Green Bay Packers seemed like heavy favorites to be representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI. As we've seen, they were derailed along the way by the eventual-champion New York Giants. They finished with one of the worst defensive units seen in recent memory, finishing dead-last in average passing yards given up per game, as well as leading the category for most yards given up in total. Hinging their championship dreams on the arm of quarterback Aaron Rodgers only took this subsequent rendition of the 2010 team that won it all so far.

As a result, the Packers focused primarily on equipping defensive coordinator Dom Capers with heavy artillery on the defensive side of the ball. They used six of their first eight total picks in the 2012 NFL Draft to stock up, including adding Nick Perry, Casey Hayward and Mike Daniels to the arsenal. As a result, the Packers' pass defense jumped from last to 11th-best in the league in 2012. They were also ranked 11th in average yards given up per game, as well as in yards given up in total by the end of the season.

Hayward, who just finished his first season in San Diego with the Chargers after being released by the Packers, headlines a list of six players from that draft who are no longer with the team.

While it was necessary for general manager Ted Thompson to begin stockpiling the talent, Hayward was inconsistent in his four seasons with the Packers and Perry had yet to make an impact up until his recent 2016 campaign in which he led the team in sacks. Daniels, well, his influx of productivity and sudden skyrocketing to stardom speaks for itself.

Since Capers earned the title of being the team's defensive coordinator in 2009, the Packers have drafted 35 players for the defensive side of the ball — including one in the first round for the last five seasons. If what was seen defensively from Capers' group in 2016 means as much as a pattern, the trend may likely continue in April when the Packers are on the clock at No. 29.

Speaking of 2016 — as grim of a subject as it may be for some — the Packers finished second-to-last in passing yards given up per game. That means they were somehow better defensively than one other NFL team.

Keeping the thought of an electrifying playmaker added to Rodgers and co.'s group in the rearview mirror and maintaining focus on the dire needs on the other side of the ball seems desirable, however, the Packers may want to avoid looking for answers at the cornerback position. At least, via the draft.

With Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins coming off of lackluster sophomore campaigns, they're now the two premier cornerbacks in Capers' secondary with the addition of Ladarius Gunter, an undrafted free agent who was gift-wrapped the inconvenient task of covering top-tier receivers last season. Adding another young, inexperienced corner into the mix to learn Capers' highly-publicized "complicated" defense would more than likely net the Packers the same outcome witnessed in 2016.

Selecting both Randall and Rollins in back-to-back rounds in 2015 was the first time the Packers targeted cornerbacks in consecutive rounds since 2004 when they selected Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas at 25th and 70th overall respectively. Their second round pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which had them selecting at 55th overall.

The talent is there in this year's draft, but in typical Thompson fashion, the Packers will likely throw a curveball and put each and every mock draft across the sporting universe to shame. 


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 (19) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Rossonero's picture

I hate to say it, but under Ted, I don't expect much to change in 2017.

The draft will be heavy on defensive players, but I have a feeling they'll feel confident that Randall and Rollins can bounce back after battling injuries last season.

The key is will they develop? In 2012, we had Sam Shields entering his 3rd year and he began to emerge. Can Rollins and Randall do the same? It remains to be seen.

I'm still confident that Ted is wise enough to take a CB in the 1st or 2nd round, just as he took Casey Hayward in the 2nd round in 2012. However, Hayward burst into the scene his rookie year, only to frustrate us for the next three seasons. With that said, I still have hope for Randall and Rollins.

Last thing I'll say is CB is one of, if the not toughest position to draft. Look at all the high profile busts recently: Justin Gilbert, Dee Millliner, DJ Hayden. Guys we barely recognize now, but there was tons of hype about them. Let's remember that Tramon Williams and Sam Shields weren't even drafted, so the talent is out there -- Ted and his team just need to find it.

The TKstinator's picture

I have always heard that DC's defense is very complicated but Kevin Greene recently said that he makes it easy to understand.

Also, a long time ago Bill Walsh said that the rules favor offense, so a lesser "athlete" may be able to perform well if used correctly, but on defense you have to have athletes. So maybe that's why so many defensive players get picked early. And still, many of them don't pan out.

Handsback's picture

TT has tried to draft impact player for the defense, but it just hasn't panned out. If he can get a couple of FAs to addd depth to the OLB and CB positions it would help. Then you start adding rookies to the starting positions once they know what they are doing and not throwing them into the game and having to learn by trial of fire.

TT needs a good draft this year and hope he can pull it off.

stockholder's picture

Stock Pile Defensive Picks? For who?? We give them away after three years. The Packers have turned into the miami- Dan Marino- Dolphins. Capers does not run a sophisticated defense. They've been so weak in the middle since 2010. It's time TT drafts the studs and goes up after them. Regardless if their offense. The problem isn't Talent, it's speed. Example Peppers. I want fast guys. Find them. TT wants football players that only slow down before their contract runs out.

Lphill's picture

My God all we need is a defense ranked in the top 15 with our offense to take care of the rest, a couple of 3 and outs more a game is all we need to put the ball back in Rodgers hands. That's not asking for much.

ShanghaiKid's picture

Every Packers fan thoughts since 2011...Last time the D was decent they dominated in Seattle for 55 minutes. How many picks on defense can one GM waste without finding difference makers?

Since '61's picture

If the Packers offense is the ultimate example of successful draft and develop then their defense has been the polar opposite. Five first round picks later and our defense is 31st in pass defense proves how much of a crap shoot the draft is and/or how poor the Packers have been at selecting their players. Arguably, Daniels, a fourth round pick, is our best defensive player. The bottom line is that this on going failure to build a solid defense indicates that it's time for a different approach. While nothing is for certain the addition of some NFL experience via free agency may help to solidify our ILB and CB position groups. The Packers defense needs pass rushers and CBs. I have no problem drafting for those positions but it should not be our only approach. Players taken in this year's draft may not make an impact until 2-3 seasons from now. By then Aaron Rodgers current contract will be up and he may decide to move on which will make all of this pointless. So what do the Packers have to lose by signing one or two defensive FAs who actually help us win in 2017 or 2018? Cap space? TT doesn't use all of his available funds anyway. That in itself is a waste of the money. We don't need the best defense in the league, just a solid defense that can make some stops and get off the field. Rodgers and the offense can do the rest. Why not supplement our D&D efforts with some experienced FAs. The worst we could do will be what we have been doing, make the playoffs and get eliminated before the SB. But at least we will have tried to change the pattern while we still have Rodgers. If Rodgers moves on in a few seasons what are we building for? Sports is about winning now and worry about next season and those after when they get here. We need help on defense, let's go get it Ted. Thanks, Since '61

Rossonero's picture

Agree with everything you said! Daniels was a 4th round pick though, not a 6th rounder.

Since '61's picture

Rossonero, thanks for the correction. I have made the appropriate edit. Since '61

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Hi Since '61. I agree with every sentence (kidding). How about something like this:

Rumor Pack is interested in Connor Barwin (see link). Philly is interested in trading Barwin because the DC they hired before the 2016 season moved from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Barwin could not make the move from OLB to 4-3 DE, just like Kampman years ago could not make the reverse move. Estimates on what Philly wants range from a 4th to a 6th. Here are the #s:

As a 4-3 DE, Barwin played 70% of snaps, and had just 34 tackles, 5 sacks, and a very modest 9 hurries in 2016. According to the Philly blog, he was bad as a 4-3 DE setting the edge (see link).

As an OLB in 2015, Barwin had 7 sacks, 18 hurries, 44 tackles and 7 passes defensed. [Barwin’s 7 PDs looks good: Joe Thomas led GB’s LBs with 5 passes defensed, followed by 4 for Perry and Martinez, 3 for Ryan, Peppers and CM3, and 2 for Datone. I am assuming the latter couple of guys had passes batted down rather than defensing a pass in coverage. As for hurries, Barwin’s 18 looks good: Perry had 17 – in addition to his 11 sacks – while CM3 had 15, Datone 14, Peppers 12.] I bear in mind that Philly has Graham and Cox creating some havoc up front. Barwin had 14.5 sacks as an OLB in 2014. He is 30, and turns 31 on October 31, 2017.

Barwin had a real nice combine, but then had a great pro day (albeit in 2009 - who knows what he would do now). Here are his #s with the pro day in parenthesis: 40: 4.66 (4.47); 10 yd dash 1.66 (1.53); 21 reps (23); vert: 40.5" (N/A); broad jump 128" (N/A); 3 cone: 6.87 (N/A) which is truly excellent for a guy 6'3" and 256 pounds.

Philly would eat $600K in dead money. His new team would take on a $7.75M cap hit but he would come to GB with zero dead money. He is signed through 2018 ($10.25M cap hit in 2018, but again, no dead money).

I don't watch Philly. IDK if the decline in sacks from 14.5 in 2014 to 7 sacks in 2015 as an OLB was age related, and then to 5 sacks as a 4-3 DE. If he is sound, then the money seems fine to me. We paid Peppers a little bit more last year. I'd consider our 4th rounder, roughly 125 to 130th pick, but would be happier trading our fifth rounder, roughly 155th but more likely low 160s after the comp picks are added in for the 3rd and 4th rounds. Our comp pick in the 5th is a option too (I would have traded Hayward for Barwin all day long, after all).

I'd still draft a OLB high this year if one TT likes is there in round 1 or 2, but TT would be far more free to take the BPA on day one and two. The stars on a 3-4 are supposed to be the OLBs, so I don't mind the notion of paying a lot for CM3, a goodly sum for Perry, $7.75M for Barwin, Fackrell on his rookie deal, and TT can decide what to do with Jones and Elliot and whether to add a rookie OLB high. Trading for Barwin would not affect GB in determining if it receives any compensatory picks in 2018.

MITM's picture

This draft is extremely cornerback heavy. Ok, great. Heres the thing, by the time we pick the run on said cornerbacks will more than likely already have begun. That being said, the fourth or fifth best corner at 29 is not the help we need. Whoever it would be that we would take is still going to start out the season behind Randall, Rollins and Gunter. No thanks. The free agent market is sort of loaded at cornerback as well, even taking into account guys that will most certainly be resigned. But a guy like Trumaine Johnson or Logan Ryan even Mo Claiborne would go such a long way, Claiborne would probably come cheapest of the 3. He finally started to look like a first rounder last year after only flashing at times in the years prior. If we were able to sign just 1 veteran corner then we can use our first couple of picks to solidify the middle of our defense. A guy like Zach Cunningham a TRUE inside linebacker, TJ Watt would be 2 birds with 1 stone, he can play inside or outside. Same with Reddick from Temple, inside or outside and he came into college as a cornerback so the explosion and the quick twitch is obviously there, more so than Watt. A guy to watch in Round 2 would be Raekwon Mcmillan, Jarrad Davis or Alex Anzalone who is an absolute physical specimen at inside linebacker and he moves extremely well for his size. We need to address cornerback in free agency, and get help at LB in the draft. I truly believe that is our best bet as far as addressing needs.

RodFlash's picture

You sir, are absolutely correct. However, there's one major obstacle...Ted Thompson!

Turophile's picture

(MITM said...."That being said, the fourth or fifth best corner at 29 is not the help we need.")

That suggests there isn't good talent there when we pick. I think that is absolutely wrong. I think Conley, Awuzie and Moreau will all be good corners.

CBS currently has them rated as 9th best corner at #51 (Conley), 12th best corner at #68 (Awuzie), 16th best corner at #107 (Moreau). I think that any of these guys would be a great addition to the Packers CB crew. By that (CBS) projection, Awuzie would be there for the 2nd round pick and Moreau with the 3rd.

I get that you diss the CBs in the draft for your favourite solution (a vet pickup), but suggesting the Packers couldn't help themselves there bigtime in the draft, is just wrong. This is a good year, a very good year, to be drafting a CB. It is perfectly possible to get an OLB in round one and still get a very good CB. Missouri DE(OLB) Charles Harris is my current fave, followed by UCLA OLB Takkarist McKinley (I like Auburn's Lawson, as well).

I understand the desire for quick fixes, but it doesn't happen very often, if you are a Packer fan. There are good reasons for teams dumping what you think are quality vet CBs, which is why Ted visits that source so seldom. I'm not saying a vet CB wouldn't help, they might, but they are a risk as well.

I expect CB and OLB to both be addressed in the draft by round three, because there are multiple credible choices, at both positions.

Turophile's picture

double post

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree with you on the CBs available in the draft. As many as 8 CBs might go in the first round this year. Odds are that 2 or 3 CBs will still be there at #29, and IMO the best of those guys had that player been in last year's draft would have been taken in the high teens or low twenties. Likely to be a good value. Still, lots of CBs taken in the 1st round bust. I think MITM undervalues taking a CB high too much.

Your position on signing some FA CBs is more nuanced, but if I have summed up your position accurately, I'd say that you are undervaluing the FAs. There are a bunch of CBs capable of starting and playing well, and most of them are young, just 26 or 27. Yes, we'll have to pay market rate, and I don't suppose we'd get a bunch of surplus value from such a player. I'd suggest signing a FA and drafting a CB high. That rookie CB is likely to need half a season, maybe a whole season, before he is up to snuff. He almost certainly going to be a lot better prospect than Gunter, probably considerably better prospect than Rollins (even if the rookie is taken in the 2nd round), and reasonably likely to be a better prospect than Randall if the rookie is a first rounder, 50/50 if he is a 2nd rounder. A vet FA should be able to play pretty much right away.

MITM's picture

Right, that is what i was trying to get at as far as drafting a CB at 29. Of course a first round talent at cornerback serves us well, but like you said the whole half a season, whole season to get up to speed thing leaves us in the same position starter wise as we left off in Atlanta. I am being impatient in saying that I would rather a FA corner come in and take one of the edge spots from the incumbents. I just think that the FA CB class rivals the CB class in the draft as far as depth and value, and I would rather the NFL experience at this point. Also I am a huge homer for linebackers. I know TT does not value ILBs I am just hoping the proof is in the pudding for him and that changes this year.

Rossonero's picture

Unfortunately, Thompson and the Packers do not value the ILB position high enough to spend a 1st rounder on it.

A perfect example was the 2015 draft: AJ Hawk and Brad Jones were cut, leaving a gaping hole over the middle, so what did Ted do? Take Demarious Randall, which he thought was the best available player, over 3 down starter Eric Kendricks.

I'm fact, Ted had only spent as high as a 4th rounder on Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez since spending a top 10 pick on Hawk.

MITM's picture

Also I got ripped to shreds in here for the mini meltdown I had after we traded up in Round 2 and took Spriggs. That was the 48th pick, with the 52nd pick the Falcons took the guy i really thought we were trading up for, Deion Jones. He was everything that we needed at ILB, that one is always going to hurt. Sigh.

stockholder's picture

I thought so too. But they beat chicago to Spriggs. (So I hear) And then Chicago took Whitehair. Then they got Sitton. So much for burning your opponent. I think tt was trying for the commissioners job. It seems every time he tries to get the upper hand it backfires. Maybe he should try for a date with miss America first.

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