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Packers Lacking Playmakers at Linebacker, Unlike 49ers

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Packers Lacking Playmakers at Linebacker, Unlike 49ers

San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Photo by Brian Carriveau of Cheesehead TV.

NEW ORLEANS––Part of the reason the Green Bay Packers had a second consecutive exit in the divisional round of the playoffs can be found in the team that eliminated them this past season.

The San Francisco 49ers boast one the best group of linebackers in the entire league, one key to their defense's success. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith were all named first-team All-Pro. If that wasn't enough, Ahmad Brooks was named to the second-team.

So what makes them so good?

"All of us are guys that want to compete, guys who want to make the next big play," said Bowman. "On some defenses, you have one or two playmakers, one or two guys who you know are trying to make a play."

If the latter sounds somehow familiar, it should. Beyond Clay Matthews, the Packers had very little in terms of playmakers at the linebacker position.

There's little doubt that Matthews is good in his own right. His 13 sacks were among the league leaders in 2012, and he was named second-team All-Pro just like Brooks.

Matthews is the cornerstone the Packers can build their defense around. But he can't do it alone. At least not if the Packers hope to get back to where the 49ers currently are, which is competing for the Super Bowl.

Smith, who had 19.5 sacks this season for the 49ers, echoed Bowman's sentiments about the playmaking aspect being the common thread among the 49ers' elite four linebackers.

"It's kind of like a friendly competition. Everyone wants to be good. Everyone wants to make a play," said Smith. "When that happens, it brings out the best in you. So every game, one of us is going to make a big play."

For the sake of comparison, Packers linebackers had a collective 21.0 sacks among their four primary starters at linebacker––Matthews, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Erik Walden––to go along with two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The 49ers, meanwhile, had 28.5 sacks, five interceptions and eight forced fumbles among their fab four.

There's no doubt that injuries to Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith and Nick Perry hampered the Packers defense this season and perhaps prevented it from being better than it could be. But the rest of the Packers linebackers, in a word, underachieved.

The knock on Hawk has always been that he's not a playmaker. In seven professional seasons, Hawk has 13.5 sacks, an average of less than two per year. His eight interceptions are an average of just over one per year.

With a contract that pays in the neighborhood of $5 million in each of the next three seasons, the Packers have to decide how long they can hold onto a player who's production is as average as average can be.

Jones may have exceeded expectations as the third-string inside linebacker behind Bishop and Smith, but he didn't prove he's an unquestioned starter upon their return either.

Opposite Matthews, Walden was rated as the lowest-ranking 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL for a second consecutive season by He'll be a free agent in the offseason.

The attention now turns to how the Packers can improve that linebacker group in 2013 and beyond. And unfortunately for Green Bay, there's no simple so solution, easy answer or magic elixir that's going to make the linebackers better.

According to 49ers linebackers coach Jim Leavitt, it's important for the linebackers to be surrounded by good players on the defensive line and in the secondary. There's also the matter of good coaching and a front office that procures the talent.

"I believe (49ers general manager) Trent Baalke and his group did an outstanding job," said Leavitt. "That's a lot of work. And for them to make the decisions they made, was extraordinary."

That's where Packers G.M. Ted Thompson comes into the picture. The possibility exists that he could sit tight and hope that injured players like Bishop, Smith and their 2012 first-round draft choice raise the bar.

The Packers are sure to have high hopes for a player like Perry, but as of yet, the jury is still out. Even rookies like Dezman Moses and Terrell Manning could emerge.

But if the in-house candidates aren't viable options, the Packers will have to look from outside the organization. Free agency is an unlikely source for an influx of new talent, but the NFL Draft could be.

Whatever road the Packers take, they'll need some players like the 49ers who have a quality that's lacking in Green Bay.

"I enjoy these guys, because the passion they have for the game is special," said Leavitt. "It's in them. You can feel the energy through them. You can see that in their play. They have embraced this game so much, and they're just so passionate about it."

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (33) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Denver's picture

I don't mind A.J. as much as some Packer fans, but I am more than ready to see someone new playing in his place starting next season.

imfubared's picture

For me its easy. A J is too slow to play linebacker.

dawg's picture

AJ has got to go, lovem as a Packer, not a Playa!
Smart, to slow. to small.

MarkinMadison's picture

I think we covered the salary cap last week, but to recap, dumping Hawk saves $2.5 M against the cap this year if he is dumped before June. After June 1st you save $3.0 M. The ILBs in this draft do not offer such a clear improvement that the Packers will simply dump Hawk to save $2.5M. Three guys commonly given first round grades. The most likely to fall to the Packers is Manti T'eo. Reminds me of Hawk in college. Except the leadership aura thing is now dead for him for quite a while. OLB might offer some better opportunities, but hate to even venture my ignorant guesses on that topic, because most of those guys have to make some major transitions fromt the college to the pro game, and even the professionals have a hard time making those projections.

The idea of Hawk staying seems espeically likely (to me) given that Bishop and Smith are coming off of injuries. I'm not saying I'd be unhappy if the Packers drafted a real play-making LB in the first round this year. I think it would be great. What I am saying is that Hawk will be on the roster come September 1st, and more likely than not he will hang onto his starting position, because there is no obvious winner in this crop of ILBs.

Evan's picture

Forget the draft - I'd rather see Bishop and Smith as the starting ILBs. But, I agree, it's hard to see Hawk losing his startling spot if he's on the roster, especially when you factor in Bishop's and Smith's injuries.

CSS's picture

Don't sleep on Jamari Lattimore. He's violent on contact and aggressive. He's only had one camp at ILB, but definitely has the speed, range, size and desire for contact the team needs. At this point, reminds me a lot of where Bishop was in his career early on: Special teams ace, physical specimen, but not proven.

Kid has the tools, hope he can progress.

madtork's picture

it takes a few years of drafting in the the top 5 of every round to get where sf is. indy as well. fault t.t. for being really good as a reason for the packers short comings

madmanJack's picture


imfubared's picture

I agree but it also takes money to keep all the horses in the coral as well. Ted gets rid of his two and three picks and gets those valuable non drafted rookies and 4,5,6 rounders to fill his stable.
Hey they're cheap/ My point, Ted will never keep a bunch of number 5 pickes but trade them away to save the bucks.

Evan's picture

This doesn't make any sense.

Brian's picture


Evan's picture

A seemingly obvious point I haven't seen made yet. That said, Bowman and Brooks were 3rd round picks (2010 and 2006, respectively). But Justin Smith, Willis and Aldon Smith were all Top 11 picks.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

“It’s kind of like a friendly competition. Everyone wants to be good. Everyone wants to make a play,”

I find it hard to believe that our LB's don't want to be good. I have to believe they too want to make a play. Unfortunately, the talent level just isn't on par with SF. Just isn't. A healthy Bishop and Perry should help the unit, but that crew in SF is effing ridiculous.


Idiot Fan's picture

That's true, but it's also probably the strength of their team, along with oline. It's easy to look at a Super Bowl team and say, "hey they have awesome linebackers, I wish we had those" (and I do), but there are other positions where we clearly trump them (like WR, CB, and QB, though the gap narrowed when Kaepernick started playing). I, like everyone else, would like a little of the SF defense's nastiness, but any gap between our two teams isn't necessarily as wide as the gap between our linebacking corps.

Also, has anyone else noticed that the SF defense has quietly been giving up a lot of points lately?

imfubared's picture

Lets not forger the LB's on the Vikes. They actually line up 6 yards off the line of scrimmage and look dominant. Their job is to stop the run and short passing yardage and let the 4 down linemen do the rushing.

Sounds like a novel Idea. I think they call it the 4 3 defense. Not sure but it works for them.

lebowski's picture

The Vikes' linebackers look dominant? Not sure about that.

CSS's picture

Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley are both free agents this year. Both played so mediocre to poor that the Vikings definately will not sign both, may not sign either.

No linebacker in the NFL has given up more passing yards than Chad Greenway (per PFF, take it at face value).

So, there's that....

Idiot Fan's picture

You're missing the point. They are a 4-3, therefore by definition they are amazing.

lebowski's picture


KennyPayne's picture

Come on now, AJ is a top 5 pick (a higher pick than SF 49er).

Why does everyone say he is not premiere talent when Hawk was drafted so high and is so assignment sure? I mean TT obviously knows greatness and he signed AJ to a deal that makes him one of the highest paid players on the team 2 years ago.

Time to wizen up. AJ is the bomb and silly Packer fans can't see all the great things he does like TT and MM do.

Web's picture

When you sucked for years like the Niners did, you can walk ass-backward into drafting some top talent eventually. Winning more than losing like the Packers have for twenty years eventually catches up in drafting later in rounds.

Tarynfor12's picture

SF,Sea,NYG etc,come to a gang fight looking the 'Warriors'..the Packers come looking like the dance scene from 'West Side Story'.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Lol, that's a funny visual.

bomdad's picture

SF had the best LBs this year because they all played 16 games.

Rocky70's picture

Jason Spitz, Abdul Hodge, Daryn Colledge, AJ Hawk, Aaron Rouse, Brandon Jackson, Justin Harrell, JMike Finley, Pat Lee, Brian Brohm, & possibly Neal, A. Green & Sherrod. Too early to draw conclusions on Worthy & Perry.

This list is over half of the players drafted by TT in the 1st 3 rounds for the last eight years. ---- I think it's relatively easy to see why GB is watching the SB again. Unless TT gets off his dead ass & focuses on the 1st 3 rounds (instead of rounds 5,6 & 7 & UDFAs), the only improvement will have to come from the next GM.

cow42's picture

over 1/2 of sf's picks from the first 3 rounds (last 8 years)...

Aj Jenkins
Chris culliver
Taylor mayes
Glen coffee
Chilo rachal
Reggie smith
Jason hill
ray mcdonald
Brandon Williams
Alex smith
Adam snyder
Rashaun woods
Justin smiley
Shawntae spencer
Derrick Hamilton
Kwame harris
Andrew Williams


Rocky70's picture

Why would I be fixated on SF or any other team? --- I follow the Pack like most here ---- The other 31 are pretty much irrelevant to me.

paleoreef103's picture

Those are a lot of misses, but to be fair everyone misses a lot. Also, Colledge worked out enough for a superbowl. AJ Hawk worked out OK same with Finley. Brandon Jackson was a stud pass blocking back. Neal, Sherrod, and Harrell have injury problems that could have manifested for anyone. That isn't actually as bad as you make it seem. So really, Spitz, Hodge, Rouse, Pat Lee (good special teamer), and Brohm were really the only flops. Hell, even the Patriots have a decent amount of draft flops.

PadLevel's picture

I love this logic! When Teddy T's picks suck the explanation is "Well, everyone misses in the draft". When one of his 6th/7th round picks play half-decent, he is an absolute genius. Thanks Rocky70 for having the guts to expose Teddy T for what he really is - an average GM who got lucky one year and ended up winning a superbowl with a "magical carpet ride" season.

Rocky70's picture

Unfortunately, the worse is yet to come. GB will be heading into 2013 w/out it's best WR (GJ), w/out a name RB or anyone even close, with a future HOF TE who isn't even average (that's sarcasm), an OL where only 2 or 3 are legitimate starters and a "D" with ONLY one blue-chipper (CM3).

AR, CM3 & Cobb are the team. ---- PackFans better get ready for major disappointment in 2013 ---- It will be a long season with drastic changes at about this time next year. --- Look for 2014 to be the changing of the guard in GB.

packeraaron's picture

Hey look! It's the same "The end is neigh" chorus as last off-season!

You have one song Rocky, and you sing it well.

Rocky70's picture

At least I have an opinion that is mine alone. Looks like B/R is pretty much crafting your opinions. What's that called? Oh, ya, a sellout.

dawg's picture

Yep, many short comings in GB.

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