Packers have Talent and Coaching Needed for Defensive Revival

For the past few years, there is no question that the Green Bay Packers defense has struggled. And depending on who you talk to, there are plenty of reasons why.

Of course, there have been issues with personnel, especially at cornerback. Damarious Randall didn’t really work out and Quinten Rollins hasn’t either. Green Bay still hasn’t found that third pass rusher and the safety position has bounced back between strength and weakness.

While the on-field talent was part of the problem, the coaching was an issue too. Don’t get me wrong, Dom Capers has done some great things in the NFL and with the Packers. He coached Charles Woodson to Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and helped Green Bay win the Super Bowl in 2010.

But listening to Tramon Williams talk about how teams caught up to Capers made sense. We could all see that and when the Packers no longer had the talent or playmaking ability to cover it up, everything went to pieces.

But now, with a new defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine and some really nice additions to the defense, both in free agency and the NFL draft, a defensive revival seems to be in the works.

In Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams, the two key free agents the Packers signed on defense, you get two players who are familiar with Pettine and should help the transition. Then, when you add in guys like Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and Oren Burks, it’s hard not be excited.

And when you count on potential contributions from the 2017 draft class, with guys like Kevin King, Josh Jones, Vince Biegel and Montravius Adams, you realize there is a lot of young talent on this defense and Pettine seems like the guy to bring out the best in them all. 

In terms of jokers (pass rushers), Pettine has a few to work with. If healthy, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are each capable of double-digit sack seasons. Wilkerson, who can rush from defensive end or as a three technique, is another guy who can be very disruptive.

Biegel and Kyler Fackrell, even Reggie Gilbert could add more depth on the edge, but inside, with Mike Daniels, Green Bay has another elite rusher. When it comes to interior pass rushers, Mike Daniels is among the best, as evidenced by his 25 sacks in the past five seasons.

A pass rush is important, but the Packers have to be able to cover in the back end too. Last year and in 2016, the secondary was clearly overmatched. It has been for years. Yet, with the additions of Alexander and Jackson, on top of Williams, Davon House and King a year ago, Green Bay has a lot of pieces.

Jackson and King are big physical corners and Williams can play that way too. Alexander is another physical guy that also happens to be small and lightning quick. If those guys can all stay healthy, Pettine will have plenty to work with, particularly if Ha Ha Clinton-Dix can have a bounce back year.

Long term, the Packers may need another elite pass rusher to be a truly dominant defense. But when you look at all three levels of the defense, there are more pieces to work with and more potential than there has been in years. 

It remains to be seen how Pettine is able to put all these pieces together for 2018. But make no mistake, Green Bay will be better defensively next season, the only questions that remain are how much will it improve and will it be enough to get the Packers back into the NFL’s biggest game?

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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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Comments (40)

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

May 10, 2018 at 05:28 pm

"how teams caught up to Capers"

S#$t, the fans caught up with Capers. Even my ignorant mind knew what he was going to call too often.

Teams where laughing at the Packers defense in post game. Stafford smirking and saying "we knew what all of the coverages where going to be" was the end IMO. MM hates being laughed at...

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 10, 2018 at 01:33 pm

When you know what the other team is going to do or has a tendency of doing, its easy to attack.

When Capers first came to GB, he wasn't predictable. The last few years he was.

Definitely a time for change.

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TheVOR's picture

May 10, 2018 at 05:36 pm

Ya, but do they really have the coaches? Everyone has been blaming Capers and Thompson all this time.

Here's a big "WHAT IF" for everyone. What if Joe Witt isn't what everyone thinks he is? What if, "contrary to the media machines opinions as well as the Packers front office propaganda", in fact isn't nearly the coach he's fooled everyone into believing he is?

What if as a position coach, Joe Whitt really isn't any good.

Here's the deal, that freekin DB ROOM IS LOADED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If Pettine, Whitt, and Simmons can't get this done, with this defensive back pool, and they basically blow again, I'd like to see the position coaches out of GB.

That DB room is freekin LOADED!!!!!! NO more excuses. If they can't get it done, the organization needs a reload at position coaching for DB's..
My 2

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Oppy's picture

May 11, 2018 at 12:46 am

I used to think the same thing about Joe Whitt Jr.

Here's the thing though:

Tramon Williams.
Sam Shields.

That's two undrafted free agents who ended up being pro bowl CB's.

Add in what LaDarius Gunter did (he was not a great DB but he played WAAAY over his head for an entire season and did an admirable job) and I think that's a pretty good case for Joe Whitt Jr. being a good DB coach.

Anyhoo, he's had a trademark McCarthy promotion to "Defensive Pass Game Coordinator", so it'll be anyone's guess exactly what his role will actually be in 2018.

Jason Simmons is now the Defensive Backs coach. Should be noted that the separate "Safeties" coach has been eliminated since Darren Perry left.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

May 11, 2018 at 09:55 am

If the assistants could not coach Capers stuff then it should have been up to him to make his scheme coachable or ask for different assistants. It doesn't look like he ever did.

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GBPDAN1's picture

May 11, 2018 at 08:29 am

This defence is definitely trending up. Not sure how long it will take, but It's going to be fun watching it mature. Love the choice of Pettine as DC. There will be a learning curve with his new scheme and the young players will need to adjust to the NFL game. But when it all gels (mid season? ), this D is going to be good. It just needs to stay relatively healthy, obviously. If the Pack goes 5-1 before the Bye (I think 6-0 is possible), there's a good possibility they finish 11-5 (or 12-4 if 6-0 before the Bye). So, we could have a good D entering the playoffs.

Picking up another quality pass rusher and some more depth before next season will put this D in elite status. Love that we have 2 first rd picks next year, even if they are later in the rd. I believe AR will finally have a stud D to help him. It will just take a little bit more time, but we are much closer.

The last time AR had a stud D (2010) we won the SB. The last time AR had a decent D (2014) we were a blotched onside kick and other self inflicted mishaps away from being in the SB.

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The TKstinator's picture

May 11, 2018 at 06:43 am

Agreed that the opponent knowing what’s coming is a problem
BUT
Many times I’ve heard that successful D’s don’t have to be wild, wacky, exotic, unpredictable, or have funky names derived from motorsports; they just execute. Seattle’s hated LOB played a ton of cover 3 but it didn’t matter because they had Thomas, Sherman, and Chancellor. Heck, even Pettine said X’s and O’s are only a small part of great defense. He said one front and one coverage can be successful if played with great intensity and great technique.
So, if improved personnel and new (and better) coaching all adds up to much better D, I’m on board.

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EdsLaces's picture

May 10, 2018 at 12:48 pm

Man ...this got me pumped for the season ..

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Tundraboy's picture

May 10, 2018 at 09:23 pm

Likewise. How can we not improve and generate serious pass rush with the talent on board.

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Turophile's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:30 am

If the Packers D is average in 2018, they will have achieved my hopes for them. That doesn't sound like much, but it seems likely that 2018 is the bridge between awful defenses of the past and good defense in the future.

I hope for much more in 2019, but Vince Biegel, Josh Jones, Montravius Adams, Oren Burks, Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson all need a little time and space to become what their talent suggests they could be (Clark and Daniels are already there).

A modern defensive coordinator, and several years of drafting high on defense should reap rewards for the future - slower than I had hoped, because the draft misses have slowed the Packers development there, but headed upwards. The Packers may not 'be there' yet on the defense, but I think they are on the way.

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Tundraboy's picture

May 11, 2018 at 11:38 am

It's a good feeling, and a stark improvement from last year. No pun intended. Lol

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Since'61's picture

May 10, 2018 at 01:10 pm

Not having a DC would be an improvement over Capers. With Pettine we should much improved, but it may take time as well.

As for talent level we will be younger and more athletic. Howevet, lack of NFL experience and the quality of our depth remain question marks for the defense.
Will they tackle, rush the passer and cover better than in the past? I think yes if they remain healthy but it may take until mid-season or later until Pettine's defense gels. It may take until 2019, but at least for the first time in 7-8 seasons we have hope for defensive improvement. Thanks, Since '61

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Finwiz's picture

May 10, 2018 at 01:51 pm

>>Not having a DC would be an improvement over Capers.<<

Newsflash......that's how bad it was in GB the last couple years folks!
Addition by subtraction....Love it!

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Lare's picture

May 10, 2018 at 02:58 pm

I agree, the defense has more speed & talent than it has in the past, but it's also unrealistic to expect the rookies to come in and be productive early in the season. The NFL is just so much more advanced in scheme and athletic ability than what they've seen at the college level. Fortunately, the Packers have a pretty good mix of youth & experience that should help during the transition. And as you say, it's important that key players stay healthy.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:45 am

For sure. Thats why a guy like TW is so important. If he can solidify one position while jackson and alexander are learning, thats a big crutch through the first 10 weeks. His health is extremely important, lining up king, alexander and jackson would be very dangerous due to a collective lack of experience

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Tundraboy's picture

May 10, 2018 at 09:25 pm

How can you not like this?

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Tundraboy's picture

May 11, 2018 at 11:40 am

Referring to Ed's comment Btw.

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 10, 2018 at 01:19 pm

IMO, the biggest addition this offseason has been Pettine. I really liked Capers and defended him. But it was time for a change. They needed a new approach on defense.
The part that I liked the most when listening to Pettine talk during his first press conference was when he said that he adjusts his defense to fit the players he has.

On paper, our defense should be a lot better. We won't truly know until the end of the year. But I do like the looks of the defense right now.

They first went and made what was our strength of the defense (DL) even stronger by adding Wilkerson. Clark took a big step last year, and I fully expect him to keep getting better. Lowry has been good, and Adams could make an impact this year as well.

During the draft they added a lot of speed to the ILB spot with Burks. Burks a former safety can cover. His play recognition and reaction is really good too. And he has the speed to cover the whole field. He could look great next to Martinez who only was a league leader in tackles. They could form a really good duo.

Finally the biggest additions were added at CB. They got rid of a player who has had a lot of of ups and downs. They went out and brought back Tramon Williams who is coming off one of his best seasons and has experience in the defense. Then resigned House who was good when he was healthy last year. Then in the draft they added who Mike Mayock had rated as the #1 CB. And then they added a 2nd CB who many had viewed as a first round pick.
Lets not forget that King is coming back, who when he was healthy was our best CB last year.

While they didn't add anyone new to the OLB position they added a DL who can rush the QB. They added a Coordinator who can scheme blitzes. And they improved the secondary which should give the rush more time to get there. Also hopefully the young players emerge. Biegel, Gilbert, Fackrell, Odom.

I am looking forward to seeing our defense on the field.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:54 am

Its interesting too that MM wasn't blowing smoke when he said the defense needs to be as good as the offense. I'm sure Pettine made it clear that more of the available resources had to be dedicated to that side of the team. Looking at the offense, swaped jordy for graham, haven't resigned evans and hopefully upgraded the bench wrs. Not a big offseason there. They weren't joking about making the defense better, hopefully Pettine feels he's got enough weapons to build a dominant group. Although we want to temper expectations so we aren't dissapointed sometimes, there are teams that make significant leaps in a single offseason. Seeing a top 10 defense on the field by week 17 would be incredibly fun. I also wonder how rodgers effectiveness and impact would improve, knowing his defense isn't going to automatically give up points on every drive.

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 11, 2018 at 07:49 am

I think it was clear to everyone that they had to change what they were doing. If this year taught them anything it was that they needed better performances out of the defense so they don't have to rely on Rodgers as much.

I would say that on offense they did make a lateral move with swapping Graham for Nelson. And they definitely upgraded the depth at the WR. At least upgraded the talent of the depth there.
I'm really curious to see what changes they make on offense. The changes they do make on offense could possibly make as big of a difference as the changes they make on defense. Getting Philbin back should be a major help. With all the young WR's, taking a new approach schematically could help them more on the field.

I think Pettine has to like the moves they made overall. They added a player that played really well for him and is making a strength even stronger. They went and got 3 new CB's. 1 veteran who played for him, 2 CB's that most considered to be 1st round caliber players.
Overall I have to think he will like the players he has.

Also, if JK Scott can be the type of punter they hope to be, he could turn into a major weapon. If the defense were to improve a lot, pinning teams deep would give the offense more opportunities to have shorter fields.

I'm excited for the season to start.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 11:45 am

You're right, I'm definitely overlooking the importance of adding Philbin, thats a great improvement. Will he be taking over playcalling duties?

One piece to add to this is that I've almost forgotten the history of this offense since winning the Superbowl. There was a time where the offense was so efficient that fans were complaining about the defense getting worn out due to unfavorable time-of-possession numbers. The thought was that the offense needed to run the ball more, give the defense time to rest and recover, and then that group would be more effective.

Imagine if Philbin is able to return this team to 2011 form and run the hurry up offense that capitalizes on Rodgers strengths. That's what makes Rodgers unbeatable and puts opposing defenses on their heels. The offense needs to become relentless again. If the defense can hold their own weight, that makes this more possible.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 11:52 am

To clarify, the hurry up offense doesn't have to ignore the run game, if anything it makes the run game more effective as well. But this fear of too many quick drives (successful and unsuccessful) leads to a less effective offense. If we remove that fear through a competent defense, then the offense can focus on being as effective as possible, even if that does mean losing the time of possession stat.

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jww061356's picture

May 10, 2018 at 03:04 pm

I looks like they added speed, size, and smarts, with some veteran depth. If we can manage to have a Vikingsque type of luck with injuries, we could really have something.

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cheesehead1's picture

May 10, 2018 at 03:58 pm

Far too early to tell how much the D will/should improve. Who knows how much our top 3 picks will help? No one knows at this point and EVERY team is pumped up about their draft choices for the upcoming season. Nevertheless, I’m optimistic Pettine can get this D back to respectability.......Does anyone know if he’ll be on the sidelines or up in the booth on game days. Personally, I’d like to see him on the sidelines “with” his players.

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Tundraboy's picture

May 10, 2018 at 09:32 pm

Oh please let that be the case. This team needs some fire on the sideline. I'm done with a sky box DC. That's what tablets are there for.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:56 am

Exactly. And if he's really all about accountability he needs to be right there when a mistake has been made

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Packmaniac's picture

May 10, 2018 at 10:16 pm

I heard he’ll be on the sideline. Makes sense. Pettine doesn’t seem like the skybox type

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Tundraboy's picture

May 11, 2018 at 11:42 am

Exactly. I mean how do you coach any sport not being in the heart of the action.

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Tundraboy's picture

May 11, 2018 at 11:43 am

I agree but all the better when focus is elsewhere.

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Handsback's picture

May 10, 2018 at 05:27 pm

I hope Packer fans will see a difference this year. They will need to in order to make the SB.

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Bure9620's picture

May 10, 2018 at 08:26 pm

The defense will be better and frankly I will be shocked if its still horrible or worse. Added Williams who was outstanding last year and 2 great young draft picks at corner. King healthy. The coverage is better. Pettine likes to play 4-3 under and wants to create more interior rush than pure edge rush, this frees up the Edge guys to get home. He likes to single up the 5 and 3 techniques with advantageous matchups. Adding Pettine is huge and Wilkerson could be the biggest FA signing since Peppers, the guy is dominant when he wants to be. Really interested to see if Adams can add rush as well, his athleticism is ridiculous coming out, top sparq percentile for DTs. We have plenty of "Edge" rush to be a good defense. If we are not in the top half of the league I'll be surprised.

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MITM's picture

May 11, 2018 at 02:16 am

I live in NYC and the vast majority of my friends happen to be Jets fans, so if the game isnt on the same day or time as the Packers, I will usually watch the Jets. Needless to say Ive seen a ton of Jets football.

When Wilkerson was at his best under Pettine, he was just as disruptive as JJ Watt. Sounds crazy but thats not even my opinion it was a fact for a year or 2. For those of you who arent very familiar with him, if he is healthy and motivated(which he supposedly is) you are going to be pleasantly shocked at how dominant he can be. And thats without taking into account the 2 other STUDS in Clark and Daniels. Scary.

Another thing as Ive mentioned before in other posts, Pettine never truly had a star rush LB on his best defenses. Consider this, the best one he had was Jason Taylor, who was resurrected by Pettine after being cast off by a team who would call him their best defender in franchise history. They thought he was done, Pettine made them pay. If only we had a guy like that on the roster who was once dominant and now doubted - not to mention younger than Taylor was by several years when Pettine made him relevant again. Hmm.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:59 am

Good stuff. I hope by the end of the year were all whining over how dumb gute was for not signing Wilkerson to a discounted 6 year deal. Could be a scary DL

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Cubbygold's picture

May 11, 2018 at 02:02 pm

A. I think you missed the point of the post. I'm happy to have him, and hope he does so well that we wish he'd signed a longer term deal.

B. yes, he would have signed a longer deal if offered at some price. The conversation we were having is that we hope he does well this year. If so, that 6 year deal will become more expensive at the end of this year than the beginning.

Relax man, it's friday

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LambeauPlain's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:15 pm

I don't you ever sign a DL guy to a 6 year deal...especially a player who fell off badly the year before.

But if he starts the season well he can always be offered an extension that makes him smile...2-3 years.

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Rak47's picture

May 13, 2018 at 04:03 am

I agree, people are completely underestimating the hiring of Pettine. And as LambeauPlain listed Philbin as well. With an offensive run game coordinator and a passing coordinator combined with not having to call plays Philbin has got to have the easiest offensive position in the NFL. :}

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cheddarhead's picture

May 11, 2018 at 10:35 am

With Rodgers at the helm all we need is a top ten Defense.

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Tundraboy's picture

May 12, 2018 at 01:08 am

Yes, but how many more times can you keep going to that well? Why not top 5 and take some of the burden and put it where it also belongs.

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LambeauPlain's picture

May 11, 2018 at 05:12 pm

The greatest reason's for improvement and widespread optimism for the 2018 version of the Pack is not the draft...nor the FA signings. They are, in order in my humble opinion:

1. The hiring of Pettine
2. The hiring of Philbin
3. The promotion of Gute

The draft class and FAs and UDFAs will all add some excellent seasoning to the team stew...but those three guys are the instant upgrades to the recipe and main course of the 2018 Packer main course.

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Rak47's picture

May 13, 2018 at 03:55 am

I found it interesting that the author threw Reggie Gilbert in as an afterthought "Biegel and Kyler Fackrell, even Reggie Gilbert could add more depth on the edge," behind two guys who have shown next to nothing in the NFL, and in Biegel's case nothing at all. Don't get me wrong because I like Biegel's potential far greater than Fackrell's. Fackrell was a 25 year old project when he was drafted and is a 28 year old project now, whereas Gilbert is bigger, faster, stronger and is 3 years younger than Fackrell. Not only that but Gilbert outperformed him in preseason last year and should have earned a spot on the 53 man roster as he showed as much when called up late in the season. Don't be surprised if Gilbert has a breakout season and leads the Packers in pressures and possibly sacks as Mathews and Perry have not shown they can stay on he field a full 16 games.

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