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Packers Defense in Middle of Youth Movement

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Packers Defense in Middle of Youth Movement

The Green Bay Packers dominated the Chicago Bears Thursday night and as well as Aaron Rodgers played, the defense was a huge part of it.

After forcing just two turnovers in the first three games, the Green Bay defense notched four against the Bears Thursday. The Packers also held the Bears to just 14 points, with one touchdown coming in gargabe time.

Through four games, the Packers defense ranks 11th in points allowed with 20.3. The defense also ranks eighth in yards allowed and seventh in pass defense. There is a ways to go, but if Green Bay can consistently hold teams under 20, it will win a lot of games.

Obviously, the Packers haven’t had to face a ton of great quarterbacks, but Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton, all have impressive resumes. Mike Glennon, not so much, but Green Bay has also faced some of the better receivers in the NFL in A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Doug Baldwin.

So far the defense has held up well and one of the reasons why is the youth movement that is now taking place.

When I was watching the Packers and Bears the other night, it hit me -- a majority of key contributors for the defense are first or second-year players. Think about it.

Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Blake Martinez, Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins are all in their second season with the Packers, while Josh Jones and Kevin King are in their first.

Of course, guys like Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Nick Perry have been around, and they are probably still the five best and most important players on that side of the ball. However, youngsters are starting to make an impact at all three levels of the defense and suddenly, a defense that felt slow, seems a lot more athletic.

Martinez has often been the lone true linebacker in the Nitro package and so far in 2017, he has done an exceptional job. He has a team-high 19 tackles, in addition to a sack and a fumble recovery. He’s tough, physical, holds up decently in coverage and always seems to be around the ball.

Jones, who is playing alongside him at inside linebacker, even though he’s naturally a safety, has also been playing well. He has 16 tackles and two sacks in two weeks and can run sideline-to-sideline. Hawkins also looked good in extended action against Chicago, while Clark and Lowry have both been effective inside in the absence of Daniels.

The defense is also benefiting from veteran additions such as Ahmad Brooks, Quinton Dial and Ricky-Jean Francois (for the second time). It seems Ted Thompson finally learned, that veterans, even if they have aged, can still contribute. Brooks, who has a sack already, has been evidence of that.

But the key to the defensive turnaround, has been the play of the young defensive backs. Kevin King seems to be getting better and better. Brice also had an interception last week.

King, Jones, Brice and Hawkins are going to make mistakes and in fact, they already have. But they are long, they are athletic, and they are getting better.

Green Bay is winning with them now and as the season goes along, logic would dictate that they would only get better. Certainly, anything can happen and nothing is guaranteed, but the Packers have a good history of developing young players and right now, with the defense, that development is paying off.


Chris is a sports journalist from Montana and has been blogging about the Packers since 2011. Chris has been a staff writer for CheeseheadTV since 2017 and looks forward to the day when Aaron Rodgers wins his second Super Bowl. Follow him @thepackersguru

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (38) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

dobber's picture

Several people pointed out over the last off-season that TT has been in the process of a roster makeover, even though it hasn't necessarily been viewed that way. The only positions that haven't really been touched by it are QB and K...maybe WR.

Still, the example of Atlanta's young defense last season coming together to support the offense on its SB run is a good one to keep in mind.

flackcatcher's picture

Packers started their defensive 'makeover' in 2013 concentrating on the LB position. In 2015 they pretty much scrapped their LB group and in 2016 redefined the position by moving Burnett inside and Hyde to the slot. After their successful run to the championship game using what amounted to a proto nitro package the team went all in this year. Picking up in free agency Brice and Evans last year and drafting Jones this year along with Brooks and later Dial on mass cut day, added quality players with the added bonus of Dial's youth. With so many new players on the D side on the ball, it will take time for Capers to get the defensive parts in sync. But even with the injuries, the speed and raw physical ability on this unit shines though. If, IF this unit does not suffer any serious season ending injuries, they could be an excellent defense come playoff time.

Chris Peterson's picture

I think the biggest thing for me is that the defense has the talent now. I didn't feel that way last year. They might have bad games but there is enough there to be really good. As good as it was a couple years ago when the offense really struggled.

dobber's picture

I'd love to see another front-7 guy emerge as a pass-rusher. It would be nice to have another player to divert focus from the other guys. Maybe it will be Vince Biegel or Montravius Adams or Dean Lowry...

croatpackfan's picture

If TT read this site, must have stomach pain - from laughing...

KenEllis's picture

Defense in the middle of ridding itself of some recent God awful premium round TT draft picks.
Datone Jones. Gone.
Quinton Rollins. Deep on the bench.
Damarious Randall. Benched.
Kyler Fackrell. Hopefully relegated to special teams once Odom comes around and Biegel gets activated.
Hard to be a decent D when a two 1sts, a 2nd, and a 3rd all bomb out.

dobber's picture

Don't care where the players come from...just find them.

stockholder's picture

Fackrell slow, Rollins slow, Jones slow, Randall swelled head. Defense should be the 1st pick again. Wr 2nd pick.

The TKstinator's picture

Or O-line.

Snake Plissken's picture

So Josh Jones and Fackrell are slow huh?

Why don't YOU go give us their combine 40 times.

I mean you are the guy who called them slow

Handsback's picture

Right now I'm happy if House comes back next week. If not.....that D is always going to have trouble stopping those passing attacks.

Rossonero's picture

It's partially a youth movement. As noted in the article, the free agents are also providing crucial contributions. Ted must've seen what New England has done and finally realized if he's ever going to compete, he can't do it with 21 and 22 year old projects. Good on him for that.

The TKstinator's picture

Seems like a good mix.

dobber's picture

On a different note: Dalvin Cook looks like he just blew out a knee...noncontact injury. Maybe that game in two weeks looks a little less daunting.

stockholder's picture

Yep. Lions won and that defense looks good. Even if their getting away with Holding.

dobber's picture

They've got a road win against a good divisional opponent. That was a big win for them.

HankScorpio's picture

The pre-MRI diagnosis is a near complete tear for Cook, according to Ian Rapoport. I hate to see that.

However, the Vikes offense surely did not do much without him today.

dobber's picture

The Case Keenum who showed up to play against the Lions was not the Case Keenum who blasted Tampa last week.

dobber's picture

The Packers have been fortunate in the sense that, yes, they're beat up. But there are no starters on IR, yet, and they should get most of their starters back for Sunday. It's like playing chess: you can lose pawns all day, but when you start losing back-row pieces is when it starts getting tough. The Vikes losing Cook was like losing a rook or maybe even your queen.

BPEARSON21's picture

Yeah we were good against the Falcons.... lol who cares if our defense is good enough to beat the bears? Seriously who cares..? Our defense has to be good enough to beat the Falcons, Cowboys, Patriots or Chiefs. Are we...? I'll remind you of the last 3 times we played ATL before you answer. The goal is championships right? Then who cares how we play against the cellar dwelling Bears.

flackcatcher's picture

That defense with what amounted to 5 SS playing pretty much shut down every teams passing game during the run to NFL championship last year. Yeah, a very damaged secondary got the Packers to the NFL championship last year. Think about that, then ask your question again.

BPEARSON21's picture

Flackcatcher you think our secondary got us to the NFC championship game...? You think our bottom 5 passing defense last year got us there...? Really..? It was Aaron's rodgers perfection. Remember when Dallas almost came back to win? Or when ATL put up 40+ points in the championship game? If you think the Packers secondary "got us to the championship game" you clearly weren't watching.

flackcatcher's picture

Fans see the game differently depending at what they are looking at. With Randall and Rollins playing injured, Gunter became the packers shutdown corner. More often than not Hyde took on the other teams no 2 WR. Burnett played the slot and had their no 3 WR or TE. That's a serious deficit of quickness and speed in the secondary last year. On top of that Capers gambled on going to man up during the 6 game run last year. That secondary with rookie Brice and Clinton-Dix shut down Washington, Lions in the second half, and denied Dallas the end zone twice in the final minutes at Dallas. A: Don't be so snotty. B: Bears still suck. Ha Ha Ha.....

HankScorpio's picture

Who cares how they play in a week 2 regular season game either? If the goal is to win championships, all that matters is that they make the playoffs and win each game once there. Through 4 games, they are well on track to accomplishing the goal of making the playoffs. They are showing the possibility of having a team that can accomplish the 2nd part as well.

The Patriots are 1 Tom Brady miracle away from having 3 home losses in 2017. The Falcons just lost to the Bills in Atlanta (aided by a Micah Hyde int) and got all they could handle from those same cellar-dwelling Bears. The Cowboys lost to the Rams at home. The Chiefs have Alex Smith as their QB

The point is that Packer fans watch their team and see every weakness and flaw. And we worry about them. But other teams have flaws, too. The Packers are good enough to beat anyone. We just have to wait for the games to be played to see if they do.

BPEARSON21's picture

That's fine, I'll wait. I waited all offseason too when I predicted we'd get lit up by ATL again.... don't have to wait on that game it already happened.

I'll wait for us to get torched in the play offs again.

Lemme guess, you think Randall and Rollins are really good players too?

I do agree with you though, I think because of Aaron Rodgers we can beat any team, but I also know our defense isn't close to being elite and will rely on Rodgers to drag us to the finish line.

HankScorpio's picture

Wrong guess on Randall and Rollins.

BPEARSON21's picture

Well we agree on that at least haha

Nick Perry's picture

"The Chiefs have Alex Smith as their QB".

I don't think Smith is a bad QB, I actually think he's a pretty good QB. IMO Smith will always be compared to Aaron Rodgers since he was picked 1st overall and 23 picks in front of Rodgers (Or whatever is was).

BUT I agree with your whole comment Hank. Everything you said is right on the money, especially the part about how the Packers played in week 2. The Packers haven't even come close to hitting their stride yet.

dobber's picture

"Then who cares how we play against the cellar dwelling Bears."

All I care about is whether the offense and defense are good enough to make them 1-0 on a given week.

Look at Atlanta...they got humbled at home by Buffalo today. Just have to be good enough THIS week...and they weren't.

flackcatcher's picture

Buffalo got two weeks of video of Atlanta at home, and it showed. Atlanta's turf advantage went away and their under sized defense exposed. There are no secrets in the NFL.

Snake Plissken's picture

You are right that the Falcons ate our lunch the last 3 times we played them.
BUT.... lets play them healthy, on grass, in the cold and lets see how they do.....

Since '61's picture

Chris to be fair and accurate, the Packers defense has allowed 67 points in 4 games so far this season for an average of 16.75 points per game. Our opponents have scored 2 defensive TDs against the Packers so far this season and hopefully no more.

So I would revise your article to state that if the Packers defense holds opponents to 17 points or less then the Packers will win most of their games. Shows how well the Packers defense is playing so far this season.

The youth movement is having an impact and it's good to see MM and Capers giving the young and better players the chance to make some plays. Thanks, Since '61

Packer Fan's picture

I like the youth movement. King, Jones and Hawkins are being given a chance to develop during the year. We need athleticism and speed in the defense. Randall and Rollins just aren't performing well enough to earn their playing time. Yes the Bears are not the offensive juggernaut that can stretch the defense. But we need King, Jones and Hawkins to show if they can get better and be something different than Randall/Rollins.

There seems to be something wrong with Randall. MM is giving us a hint with the phrase "grow up". Until he does, good teams will exploit him. So no reason to play him.

I see the best seven DB are House, King, Hawkins, Jones, Barnett, Dix and Bryce. Keep playing them until they can't perform.

A Pickled Packer's picture

The play of Hawkins really stood out to me. The difference between him and Randall was stark. Unlike Randall, he seemed stride for stride right there with the receiver and used his long arms quite effectively. Hope Hawkins earned himself a start and see if he can become "little Sam Shields" like I read they were calling him in training camp. In with the best and out with the rest. Next man up.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

" a majority of key contributors for the defense are first or second-year players. Think about it. Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Blake Martinez, Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins are all in their second season with the Packers, while Josh Jones and Kevin King are in their first."

Yeah, that's a pretty reasonable statement. GB has its normal number of bigger money guys on the team: 11 by my count. On D, they'd be CM3, Perry, Daniels, and Burnett. Looks like TT hit a home run with Josh Jones, who is providing an immediate impact. We're getting real solid contributions from Clark (hope for more) and Martinez, and contributions from Lowry, Brice/Evans, and Fackrell. We've gotten some flashes from King and Hawkins.

Brian Lee's picture

I really like Hawkins. I think he once he gains a little more experience Hawkins will be a big upgrade from Randall/Rollins. Donatello Brown will also end up being another big upgrade at CB, possibly later this year but more probably not until next year.

It would not surprise me if Randall and Rollins are both gone by the beginning of next season. Both have poor football instincts leading to getting caught flat-footed and taking extremely poor angles to the ball. Both have absolutely zero ability to follow receivers across the field on crossing patters. When a receiver makes there cut they accelerate away from Randall/Rollins like they are stuck in quicksand.

Brian Lee's picture

Almost forgot about Pipkins too.

MarkLee22's picture

I hate to be Negative Nancy again, but we are hearing the same thing every year for about 6 years now.... if the defense comes together, or if the defense matures, or if the defense stays healthy, etc, etc.
Once again we need to count on the arm and even legs (now that Ty and Jamaal are down) of Aaron Rodgers to get us to the promised land.

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