Packers Defense Not So Far Away from Success

The Packers' defense has been a weakness for years, but a lot of the pieces needed to achieve success are already in place.

The Packers ranked 22nd in total defense in 2017, and gave up the seventh most points in the league.  The team was middle-of-the-road in sacks, tied for 20th in interceptions and tied for 28th in forced fumbles.

Simply put, it was yet another abysmal defensive year that finally resulted in the termination of ex-defensive coordinator Dom Capers.   

Despite these issues, there is a lot of reason to feel good about the Packers’ chances of drastically improving on the defensive side of the ball under new coordinator Mike Pettine, and a lot of that is due to the talent stacked on that side of the ball.

The talent is there

Yes, you read that right—defensive talent. The Packers have it, or at least enough of it where they should be able to field a top-16 defense without making any personnel changes, and a top-10 defense with a little bit of extra help.

I’ve read tweets and comments all season and offseason from Packers fans bemoaning the state of the talent on the defensive side of the ball, but consider this: the Packers have Pro Bowl-caliber players at every level, and multiple All Pro-caliber players.

On the defensive line you have the established veteran Mike Daniels, as well as the up-and-coming Kenny Clark, who was arguably the Packers’ best defensive player in 2017.

In the linebacking corps is another up-and-coming player, Blake Martinez, who was all over the field in 2017, as well as a Clay Matthews who still is capable of being a difference maker, if not an every-down factor like he was earlier in his career.

In the secondary, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix undeniably had a down year and seemed to lack effort as the season spiraled out of control. But he remains a highly talented player and former Pro Bowler (and deservedly so) who, when put into a position to succeed, can be a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. That’s not to mention Damarious Randall, who quietly had a solid second half of the season in 2017 after many Packers fans wanted to run him out of town.

It’s all about scheme

This has been one of the most frustrating things about the Dom Capers era. The talent has been there. We’ve especially seen it recently in guys who left in free agency. Casey Hayward is one of the league’s best cornerbacks. Micah Hyde made a Pro Bowl in Buffalo as a takeaway machine.

The Packers aren’t the most talented defensive team out there, but there is absolutely no reason why the team should be routinely finishing as poorly in defensive rankings as it has been.

What Pettine has to do better than what Capers did is make sure these defensive position groups, which are at least average to above average individually, are able to function together in a scheme they all understand.

This isn’t exactly a high bar to clear—communication issues were constant throughout the Capers era but were especially noticeable this last season. Players often had a hard time figuring out their assignments before the ball was snapped.

But essentially, the Packers have some talented players who simply were not being put in position to succeed, due to a combination of poor scheming and trying to force players to play out of position.

Additions will help

Now, this isn’t to say the Packers don’t need to focus on bringing in additions to the defensive side of the ball. They are in drastic need of depth, and continue to need reliable playmakers who can rush the passer and take the ball away. 

Ideally, they’d be able to find a talented veteran leader who can come in and help bring out the best in his teammates, similar to what the Packers got in Charles Woodson and, to a lesser extent, Julius Peppers.

Whether a difference maker will come in free agency or the draft this year remains to be seen.

But I am convinced that the Packers have the most important ingredients already for a defense that can at least be solid in 2018 and give the team a fighting chance at bringing home another championship.

They have a coach with a track record for success everywhere he’s gone and has spoken already about his desire to simplify the defense and build around the strengths of his players.

They have a new general manager who could very well be more willing to take a chance on a veteran player in free agency than his predecessor had been for most of his tenure.

And, despite what you may have read on Twitter or in article comments, they’ve got a good base of talent on defense to build around and rely on.

The Packers have a lot of the pieces, now it’s time to find the last few that will let them complete the puzzle.

__________________________

Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

0 points

Comments (47)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Otto's picture

February 20, 2018 at 04:43 pm

Can Pettine fix the Packers' IR problem? That would be great.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
GBPDAN1's picture

February 20, 2018 at 05:45 pm

You beat me to it, Otto. If the D could stay healthy, they would undoubtedly be better. Getting rid of the confusion will help a lot, also (Pettine should help this pathetic issue). Younger players currently on the roster taking the next step would of course add to an improved D. (King, Jones, Biegel, Gilbert, Adams, etc).

So, there's 3 Variables that would improve the current D without additional personal. Now, let's add another quality CB and pass rusher and we'll be set.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Bearmeat's picture

February 20, 2018 at 05:46 pm

"the Packers have Pro Bowl-caliber players at every level, and multiple All Pro-caliber players."

Not buying it. They have a has-been in CM3. A "he's good when he's not injured" (which is hardly ever) in Perry. Unproven commodities and no depth at CB. And a pouty but could be good FS.

They have the talent right now to be a top 20 defense, but they do not have the depth to be so. They need both front line talent and depth, and that is going to take awhile.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Tundraboy's picture

February 20, 2018 at 08:43 pm

And they have players like Goodson.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Arthur Jackson's picture

February 21, 2018 at 04:34 pm

I sense you are a little down on Goodson. Me, well I feel Demetri will make that 8th year leap all coaches and fans hope to see. Wait how long has he been on the roster?

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Finwiz's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:11 am

Largely incorrect.
Just watch in the up-coming season.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Handsback's picture

February 20, 2018 at 06:13 pm

Otto and GBPDAN1 I believe have hit the nail on the head. IR/injuries are simply too much for the defense to handle. Now, they are one year older and will be bigger and stronger so maybe the injury bug won't hit as bad as before.

I also think think that there's two guys that didn't contribute anything last year , but will be very solid this year and that's Mt. Adams and Biegel. Some playing time last year, some added strength and presto maybe they will start acting and playing like guys that can make a difference. Now I say this knowing I will become a marked man, but King will have a rebirth of sorts getting his shoulder fixed as well as getting stronger. Jones is going to be a real menace next year to the opposition. His play looked like a guy that was lost and grasping for anything he could get his hands on. Next year...it will slow down.

So that's why I agree with the author. Adding some good depth won't hurt either.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
The TKstinator's picture

February 20, 2018 at 06:40 pm

Capers was great at creating confusion.
Too bad it was often among his own players.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nostradanus's picture

February 20, 2018 at 07:16 pm

I agree with the author, there is talent and with just a few key additions a little luck, better health and a scheme that just lets guys play fast, it could be a pretty good defense

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Bure9620's picture

February 20, 2018 at 08:07 pm

I actually think they have quite a bit of talent up front.
I like the potential of this young d-line. Kenny Clark has as much raw ability as any DT, as does Mike Daniels. Lowry has athleticism and leverage and I see him creating havoc this year at the 5 tech. We don't know what Montravius Adams is yet, but he was not the number one recruit in the country for nothing. He was frequently double teamed at Auburn and he had an incredible combine, let's see what he's got when healthy and with a full training camp. I like Martinez and we'll see what a healthy Biegel has. I'm not as confident in the back end but maybe they will be healthier.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Tundraboy's picture

February 20, 2018 at 09:10 pm

Exactly and why I'm calmly optimistic right now. Not confident but calm. With a jump, a break or two, a FA, and a new simpler voice, who knows? We could actually be very good.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Bearmeat's picture

February 21, 2018 at 06:27 pm

We need an FA, some more talent to come through from the draft AND to stay healthy - in addition to the new DC/scheme. If all that happens, yes, the D could be pretty good. But what are the odds of all of that happening? Not much in my experience.

I think it's more likely that 1/4 or 2/4 happen - which means we will be average to below average next year on defense. That may be enough to win it all, but it's living on the edge - even with Rodgers.

Great defenses don't just spring out of the ground. They take years to build.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Since'61's picture

February 20, 2018 at 09:11 pm

Before I can have more confidence in the Packers defense I need to see better tackling, a more consistent pass rush and and nastier attitude.

Right now they have a few good players; Daniels, Clark is coming on, Martinez plays hard but doesn't make a difference and King can be a good CB if he stays healthy.

After those players we have some over rated players and a lot of JAGS. Perry, oft-injured and over rated. CM3 over rated, Randall overrated, and then who knows.
Burnett may be gone, Dix has become a ???, House may be gone, Ryan a JAG, Beigel is an unknown along with Montravius Adams, Lowry is a definite maybe, Fackrell another JAG, Gilbert an unknown but probably a JAG.

For this defense to move into a top 16 defense will require every variable to work out correctly in 2018. First they will need to remain healthy, then they need to sign a FA CB and pass rusher who both make a difference, then draft picks that are ready to play, plus leaps by Adams, Lowry, Fackrell, Gilbert, and a return to form by Dix. This is at least. They still need to tackle better, rush the passer and create turn overs.

Pettine may be a fine DC but he has a lot to overcome in 2018 and while I expect the defense to improve I'm not sure they will improve enough to get us past our NFC playoff opponents. But we hope for the best. Thanks, Since '61

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
worztik's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:28 am

‘61... I preached that sermon quite a LOT in ‘16 and throughout ‘17 and got ripped for saying we had a majority of players that are 2nd string (rate) at best!!! My thinking, like yours, hasn’t changed!!! I vowed not to comment until after the combine but, you said a mouthful and I just had to voice my agreement with your thought process!!! Just agreein’

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Since'61's picture

February 21, 2018 at 03:05 pm

Thanks Worztik. I've been voted down plenty over the years for wanting Capers gone since 2013 and for pointing out our pathetic defense and the need for better defensive players. We're at a crossroads and we'll see if Pettine and the addition of a few better players can turn it around. I think it might take 2- 3 seasons. Thanks, Since '61

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
HankScorpio's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:07 pm

"Perry, oft-injured and over rated. CM3 over rated."

Maybe overpaid. Not over rated. Those two are seen as the primary rushers and nobody is singing the praises of the Packers pass rush.

Having said that, Matthews is still a playmaker. I think he's going to have a big year under Pettine. Like 2014 where he lined up inside, outside and all over and produced 11 sacks, 9 PDs, 1 int and 2 FFs. That's a big $$ stat line. That year was the closest the Packers have looked to a competitive defense since the SB win. That defense had the Packers in the SB but Rodgers couldn't deliver more than a 55 rating vs Seattle with a bum leg. Moving him around and creating confusion with the offense was a big part of that. He's only 31 (32 soon) and he's got the genes to play 5 more years, easily, if he's anything like his father and uncle in terms of longevity.

Ok, so given that rather glowing commentary about Matthews, maybe I over-rate him. Or maybe Capers used him all wrong causing his production to fall and many people to under-rate him. We'll see if I'm over-rating him and Pettine soon enough. But I sure wouldn't be doing anything to push him out the door or write him off just yet.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 22, 2018 at 12:33 am

"Maybe overpaid. Not over rated. "

Precisely. I would suggest that the majority on CHTV have pegged Perry and CM3 accurately in terms of probable production, (and in Perry's case, potential production if he ever stays healthy), it is just their pay is too much.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Pierre's picture

February 20, 2018 at 09:34 pm

If the Packers could trade Rodgers to the Browns for the fourth pick overall in the draft and maybe get Myles Garrett also, they can then pick Josh Allen at QB and have the money to build a superior defense next season. Three of the four final teams for the playoffs had top rated defenses. GB could then have a QB for the next 12-15 years and a defense more on a par with Minnesota and Philadelphia.
If they extend Aaron Rodgers at 30 mil per year for five years they will not have the money to build a quality defense and it will be more of the same futility of being one and done, if they do make the playoffs anymore. Having a rookie at QB will allow them to bring in free agents to quickly build a solid defensive unit that will allow the new QB to just manage the offense initially. Look at the QBs who made it to the final 4 this year. Just Brady was a super veteran; the rest were journey men or sub par QBs stat wise.
It’s a bold move but probably a prudent one to try to make happen at this time given Rodgers has injured his clavicle/shoulder two times in the last 5 years, missing significant parts of two seasons and is only getting older.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nigrivasilayesrej's picture

February 21, 2018 at 01:30 am

If you trade AR to Cleveland (insanity), you sure as hell better get more than Garrett & the #4 pick. Maybe Garrett, both 1's, & both 2's gets it done; but only if you're sold on Rosen,Darnold, or Mayfield as a franchise QB.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Green 19's picture

February 21, 2018 at 10:29 am

Agree. Cleveland should have to throw in the Indians too !!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
worztik's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:35 am

John... when you say Cleveland, you mean Dorsey!!! I’m not sure John makes that trade but, man o man, I’d at least check it out and grab the QB dude from Wyoming... Josh Allen!!! We have ENOUGH dudettes from the PAC 12 or 10 or whatever those surfer boys call it now!!! Just sayin’!!! (My, that sounds harsh... sorry!!!!)

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
John Kirk's picture

February 21, 2018 at 10:47 pm

If team is not able to get a palatable extension before the draft and decides it won't let him play it out and tag him, they absolutely should deal him.

Myles Garrett plus the 1st and 4th overall seems fair for a mid 30's QB with injury issues,if they think next franchise guy is in this draft. Win starved Cleveland would probably jump at the chance. Oh, and throw in Josh Gordon for good measure. Now, there's a WR1.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nigrivasilayesrej's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:13 am

Mid 30's QB with injury issues, that just so happens to be the best player in the NFL. Of course Cleveland would jump at the chance, so would probably every other team in the league. If GB takes that deal & misses on the QB, we then become the "win starved" team.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
John Kirk's picture

February 23, 2018 at 08:44 am

Thanks. I had no idea who Aaron Rodgers was.

He's mid 30's. Take "best player in the NFL" out of it for just a moment. You hear mid 30's and you have to start thinking any player mid 30's is nearing the end. Rodgers is no different. Once you realize this mid 30's player is nearing his end, you look at his injuries. He's had quite a few with us. Two injury marred collarbone seasons, a foot, knee, calf, concussions. Oh, but here's the biggest thing...his cost. Can you win a SB paying him 30 million + with what you already have allocated to others?

The thought isn't that crazy. You might only get 3 more years of him being the best player in the NFL. Is it worth it for 3 years when those 3 years will be compromised due to his salary? If you don't feel extremely confident you're going to get a SB in that 3 year window, you'd be a total fool to not consider this.

It's so funny I've read so much about how we can't blow this glorious opportunity of drafting at 14 like it's the ultimate determiner of our fate not only this year but forever. I understand a first round pick's significance but the weight some have placed on it is ridiculous. What we really have is a real opportunity to set this team up for the next decade by moving Rodgers. He is a depreciating asset. He is a cap crippling asset. He is a diminishing skills asset. You have the rarest of rare ops to get a Herschel Walker deal for the Packers.

As Reynoldo asked...What path would give you the best chance at a SB? We've gotten there...ONCE with Aaron with him not crippling our cap. Do you think our odds of getting there go up as he ages and his money is prohibitive? Forget sentimentality and prestige of having the best player, it's about winning SB's. I hope to goodness if it's determined the path is clearer by dealing him they would not only consider it but do it.

Oh, it's not fantasy, or Madden, or all those stupid cute things Ted programmed into the minds of the base, it's about what is best for winning SBs. Dealing Aaron Rodgers might actually be the best thing for that. If it is, it has to be done.

It is unlikely there will be another scenario where a team has the 1st and 4th pick in Round 1. it's not drafting on paper if you also get players in return like Garrett who is a difference maker as seen when he played in Year 1. Josh Gordon is the most talented WR in the NFL. He's been clean for awhile now and as risky as he might personally be, all the picks we would get and maybe Garrett and him would be really really hard to say no to given the current circumstance.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
stockholder's picture

February 21, 2018 at 07:42 am

He got Adams signed. No way they trade him. The Packers still are super -bowl favorites with him. Still, your thought of cap problems, are justified. Look for the packers to draft 2 QBs this draft. Much like the draft of Brohm and Flynn.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:52 am

We could sign Cousins for a little less than AR money, trade AR to Cleveland for the #1, #4, #33, #35, and #64 picks, and still have #14, #45, #76 and the comp pick. Heck, we wouldn't need to take a QB, so we could trade down a couple of spot in the first for more picks, and move around if desired.

Definitely a downgrade from AR to Cousins, but we could add Chubb, two or three of Ridley, Edmunds, Q Nelson, Fitzpatrick, James or Smith, package 33 and 76 and move into 23 or so if Josh Jackson, Denzel Ward or Davenport fell, and still have some attractive 2nd round picks to use.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:58 am

Drafting on paper is fun... ;)

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
worztik's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:42 am

Dob... I draft in my mind and on my I-phone!!! Now I sound like a Millennial... so sad!!!!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 22, 2018 at 12:37 am

I hear Madden is fun, Dobber. I've never tried it. Hey, someone brought up a scenario, and I went with it. No harm.

If we did as I imagined, would we be more or less likely to appear in a super bowl in 2018? 2019? Hmmm.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
dobber's picture

February 23, 2018 at 07:55 am

I had a boss who always used to tell me that if I was half as successful in real life as I was on paper, I'd be a billionaire... ;)

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
stockholder's picture

February 20, 2018 at 09:49 pm

No matter what you look like on paper. Things always happen. Lets not over think this. I don't see doom and gloom. You guys want a pass rusher. Their isn't one at 14. It's trade down or take a DL @14 . You just can't have enough big men. The NFl makes them a need. (That's if you want the BEST Player.) We found Shields and williams. We don't have to draft a CB. #1. I 'll give Pettine his man. Then take offense!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nigrivasilayesrej's picture

February 21, 2018 at 01:25 am

Only Dline guy possibly worth taking at #14 is Vea. I would target one of the following -
Edmunds LB
Smith LB
Evans LB
Ward CB
Jackson CB
James S

Chances are Fitzpatrick, Barkley, Chubb, Nelson, Rosen, Darnold, Allen(maybe), Mayfield(maybe) all go before our pick. GB will have a chance at a real difference maker on DEF this year. Rds 2/3 will be loaded with possible selections at the WR & TE positions. Draft should set up nicely for Gute this year. Will he take the right guys?

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
stockholder's picture

February 21, 2018 at 07:18 am

With a healthy Perry and Mathews , I would take vea. (Premium Position) Edmunds is good. Smith is the better pick! Why? Speed and coverage ability. He should go top 10. I would not take Evans , Jackson @ 14. (Long Speed ) Ward is smaller than GB likes. But I believe they will not go CB. (Randall ,King and Rollins are still in the plans). James is a good pick as long as he runs 4.4. The packers have problem at RG maybe RT. They must draft this position. I believe they Trade down!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nigrivasilayesrej's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:17 am

Evans is the best pass rushing LB in this draft. King has injury concerns, & I think Randall should be moved back to his natural position of S, after Burnett leaves in FA.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Duneslick's picture

February 21, 2018 at 02:42 pm

Packer Greg says: I have read smith does not cover well. if all he is is an undersized ilb that leaves the field on 3rd down I hope they pass on him.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Colin_C's picture

February 21, 2018 at 10:15 am

I'm really starting to like Evans the more I see of him. He's crazy fast, hit's hard, and is great inside and outside. He's becoming one of my favorite defensive prospects. Hopefully the combine doesn't put him in the top 10.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
HankScorpio's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:20 pm

"Edmunds LB
Smith LB
Evans LB"

It would be something to see one of them line up next to Clay Matthews inside. And behind Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark. Not many interior OLs are going to match up favorably. That's a nice card to play for any defense.

I know that help is needed outside but I'll be happy with any dynamic playmaker on defense. No matter where he plays.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
nigrivasilayesrej's picture

February 21, 2018 at 09:08 pm

Agreed. GB needs a game changer on DEF, doesn't matter what level.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Packer_Fan's picture

February 21, 2018 at 07:24 am

Packers have two major problems on defense. CB and scheme. No longer was Capers D unpredictable. And they certainly weren't playing together. Hopefully Pettine will fix that. Other than Randall there are question marks with everyone else. They need an infusion of veteran talent. Don't count on draft picks curing the issue.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Finwiz's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:09 am

I disagree....problem is scheme and PASS RUSH.
FIx the pass rush and our CB's will look like all-pro's.
No joke.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Finwiz's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:09 am

X

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
worztik's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:43 am

Y and Z!!!!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
DD's picture

February 21, 2018 at 09:11 am

I do agree the defense has promise. But, when Randall was benched by MM, why didn't he bench or get on Haha for his play? He's the head coach isn't He? So, MM must show better leadership and discipline with the team. Keeping MM was a big mistake I feel.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Johnblood27's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:02 am

we dont need Cousins, Allen, Darnold, rosen, etc.

We have Hundley.

Lets trade Arod.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
worztik's picture

February 21, 2018 at 11:44 am

YES!!!

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
Pierre's picture

February 21, 2018 at 06:18 pm

I really think the time is right to trade Rodgers for all the draft picks you can get from the Browns. They become an immediate contender in their division and the Packers can get Josh Allen to play QB for many years. He’s the QB to get as he’ll be a solid NFL player. Then GB will have the money to get solid defensive players in free agency to remake this defense right away into a top 5 unit under Pettine.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
HankScorpio's picture

February 21, 2018 at 08:24 pm

There is a reason that teams don't trade QBs that are nowhere near as good as Rodgers. Find a Bears fans. Ask what that reason is. I'm sure they'll have a good, convincing answer.

The Packers were incredibly lucky to replace Favre with Rodgers. The chances of that lighting striking again are long indeed. I think they should ride Rodgers as long as they can.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0

Log in to comment and more!

Not a member yet? Join free.

If you have already commented on Cheesehead TV in the past, we've created an account for you. Just verify your email, set a password and you're golden.