All Signs Point to Improvement for Packers’ Defense

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Clay Matthews aims to lead an improved Packers' defense in 2012.

“The first step is admitting you have a problem.”

The Packers have taken that step with regard to their pitiful defensive performance during the 2011 season. Many Packers have expressed their dissatisfaction with how the team played on that side of the ball, the latest of them Tramon Williams.

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Williams voiced his thoughts on the 2011 campaign.

“But at the end of the day, (did) we have a terrible defense? Yeah, we did, but we were productive out there. We did what we’ve always done. We turned the ball over. We have some things to build off now. We have some more pieces to the puzzle and we’re excited about it, and just ready to get back out there now.”

Williams joins Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews, who each criticized the team’s defense down the stretch of last season. All three acknowledged that the defense just wasn’t good enough and gave up too many yards and points. The saving grace throughout much of the year was the defense’s ability to create turnovers, as mentioned by Williams. The amount of turnovers created likely masked the depth of Packers’ defensive issues.

While the players have publicly spoken out regarding the defensives issues, the Packers front office acknowledged those issues in a different way. Ted Thompson used the first six selections in the NFL Draft to add defensive talent. In an unprecedented move, Thompson also traded up multiple times to grab significant talent after doing so just a few times in years prior. In addition to the draft, the Packers also signed multiple defensive linemen in hopes that somebody will step up.

With the Packers’ players individually acknowledging their issues defensively and the overhaul of defensive talent, it would seem that the Packers will be a better defense team in 2012. Getting better on paper is that just that, though.

The Packers have plenty of work to do during training camp and preseason, but the important thing to note is that signs are pointing to a much improved defense.

On the defensive line, the Packers added Daniel Muir and Anthony Hargrove through free agency. Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels were both added through the draft. The influx of defensive linemen should bring about competition not only for the newcomers, but another chance for Mike Neal, Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Lawrence Guy.

At the outside linebacker spot, rookie Nick Perry will have a big opportunity to improve the Packers pass rush playing opposite Clay Matthews. If  Perry is able to adjust quickly, the Packers will have positively addressed one of the their biggest weaknesses in 2011.

In the defensive backfield, the Packers need a couple of their cornerbacks to establish themselves as the future of the position. Charles Woodson is closing in on retirement and the Packers need somebody to pair with Tramon Williams. Jarrett Bush has shown he isn’t the guy, but fills a nice role as a veteran corner and special teams ace.

Sam Shields once appeared to be the future, but his 2011 season far from erased doubts that he was the guy. Davon House, Brandian Ross and newcomer Casey Howard are frontrunners going into camp for what would likely be two roster spots after Williams, Woodson, Shields and Bush.

At the safety position, the Packers added Jerron McMillian in an attempt to fill the void left by Nick Collins. M.D. Jennings has been the rave following OTAs and mini-camp, but McMillian will have every opportunity to compete once training camp opens, as the position is far from fixed.

So while there’s no guarantee that the unit will be better in 2012, the Packers appear ready to turn the corner on a 2011 defensive that was atrocious. All signs clearly point to at least some form of improvement.

With an offense that is so high-powered and deadly, any improvements on defenses should make the Packers clear Super Bowl favorites.

 

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Michael is a sports writer currently attending Seattle University. You can follow Michael on Twitter .

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  • Mojo

    Since the Pack ranked 32nd in overall D last year and the worst against the pass in NFL history, I would guess the saying; “no where else to go, but up” applies. So the headline, ” All sign point to improvement”, is a little misleading in that the hurdle to leap over is barely off the ground.

    • http://twitter.com/jrdulka Michael Dulka

      If the Packers didn’t come up with the turnovers they did, it could have been a whole lot worse.

  • Wagszilla

    The systemic problem is lack of pressure from the D-Line.

    Jenkins was the key. He made Raji better who made Green/Pickett better. This allowed Matthews and Walden better rushing opportunities and forced the QB to scramble.

    It was a beautiful chain reaction.

    Point being: it all rides on Hargrove, Muir, and Worthy making an impact.

    • cow42

      2 pedestrian-at-best free agents and a rookie……………..yikes.

      • Wagszilla

        Agreed. Certainly improvements over Wilson and Wynn, however.

        • http://None Bearmeat

          Don’t forget (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) Neal and Jolly (if he’s reinstated).

          There are options at DL, and this is exciting, because how our DL fares = how the D fares. Think back every year since 07. There is a causal link there..

    • toolkien

      Having Jenkins on hand didn’t accomplish much after Shields and Woodson went out in the Super Bowl. 21-3 before they got hurt, 10-25 after they got hurt. I seem to recall a Pittsburgh drive that ran right through Jenkins’ side of the line, and when the Packers slipped into zone coverages in the second half of the Super Bowl, Jenkins wasn’t exactly Reggie White in his pass rush (the Packers had 1 sack for 2 yards the whole Super Bowl). So just how great would the Packers of 2011 been with Jenkins after Collins went out and Williams was playing at about 60% for the year and zone coverages were dialed up for pretty much the whole year? Jenkins was a good player. This need to run down the mediocre 2011 defense into off the cliff terrible by elevating Jenkins to “greatness that is now gone” is silly.

  • Sven

    Why are defensive rankings based on yards. A really sucky team will give up less yards becuase once the are losing the other team will run the ball to kill the clock. so does that mean they have an awesome pass defense?

    The Packers were always in the lead last year so teams had to continuosly pass to keep up. so the packers defense kept intercepting the ball, but they gave up yards, so does that mean they sucked?

    Or could it be that we are using the wrong kind of ruler to measure the packers defense. touchdowns and turn-overs are what count more than yards. Ultimately winning is what counts, and they did that in spades.

    They really do need a better pass rush though!

    • Chad Toporski

      The problem is that turnovers are somewhat unpredictable. However, if your defense can limit the yardage of the opposing offense on a consistent basis, then you’re going to feel pretty good about limiting their scoring opportunities. And really, forcing a punt is essentially a turnover.

      • toolkien

        Which was fine for the mid-90’s. In 2011 and 2010, teams that were lousy in yards but great in turnovers were at the upper end of the playoff seeding while teams that were great in yards but lousy in turnovers didn’t make the playoffs at all. As far as turnovers being unpredictable, the Packers have been near the top in turnover margin the last three years. Specific turnovers may be random, but the environment in which they occur are manufactured, hence why certain teams consistently lead for years in a row.

    • PackersRS

      Defensive rankings are historically based on yardage because back when the run/pass ratio was 60-40 favoring the run, yardage translated well to actual play.

      It’s outdated and I doubt any team values pure yardage rankings against opposite QB rating, redzone td %, 3rd down conversion %, not to mention ppg.

  • cow42

    they have 3 “rocks” – matthews, bishop and woodson (maybe pickett).

    everyone else carries a question mark.

    to think this defense will turn things around dramatically would be foolish.

    if everything falls right they might end up being slightly above average…. and spare me the whole “they were middle of the road in points” bull$h!t. we all know they were gawd-awful.

    if they don’t flat-out suck again i’ll be happy.

    • steve cheez

      I’d love to see our defense get to “slightly above average”.

    • FireMMNow

      This was a top ten defense with less overall talent in the past. A top 15 defense is not out of the realm of possibilities, and is actually pretty plausible. Once things start going badly for a defense it can snowball. Defense is about discipline and being able to expect that everyone will fill the gap they need to. Once that trust is gone people over run and try to make big plays. No one trusted anyone in the second half last year.

    • Oppy

      “To think this defense will turn things around dramatically would be foolish.”

      Well, I think that might be seriously over reacting.

      All in all, the Packers’ defensive squad in 2011 was much the same as it was in 2010. Most people say the lack of push from the D line and the “other” OLB spot were this defense’s downfall. The Packers addressed both positions. They addressed ALL levels of the defnse- DL, both interior and outside LB, CB, and safety. The Packers had a top 10 defense in 2009 and 2010. I would suggest that 2011 was an anomaly, not a trend. I personally think the biggest challenge will be the loss of Collins. I also think having Tramon back at near full strength, as well as young, physical, not-afraid-to-tackle CBs in the mix to push Shields will pay major dividends. Expect to see House get on the field and shine at moments this year.

    • toolkien

      It stands that the three best teams in 2011 were 24th, 31st, and 32nd in yards given up (two #1 seeds and a #3 seed), and the Super Bowl champion was 27th (beating #31 in the Super Bowl). I guess they didn’t get the memo about flat-out sucking.

      5 of the last 7 Super Bowl champs lost the yardage battle in those games. But 9 of the last 12 Super Bowl champs won the playoff turnover margin, and the other 3 were won by the team that was 2nd in turnover margin. It would appear that turnovers matter a lot more than yards, hence why teams that lead in turnover margin make the playoffs more than teams that are yardage based. In 2010, the Chargers were #1 in offense and defense in terms of yards, and they didn’t even make the playoffs.

      Do we all hope the defense is better? Sure. But is that reason to get your bowels in an uproar? Nope.

  • James david Marsh

    GB also needs quality back-up players because you cannot ask OLB Mathews and Perry to play every down (Moses & So’oto maybe)could be great. ILB is set a one position with Bishop and Smith-is good. The other ILB needs to be improved. Maybe it will be an improved Hawk and/or Francois and Manning- also could be good. The DL has Raji, Pickett, Worthy, and maybe Daniels, Neal, and Guy-could also be very good.. The CB’s should be Woodson,Williams, Shields, Bush, House, and Hayward-could also be very good.. The safety position has only Burnett but needs new blood that can cover and tackle like maybe Jennings, Ross, McMillian and Richardson- let us hope for the best. I see improvement in all defensive areas. I see an even better offense in the comingm year. Anybody for another 15-1 with a SB topping.

    • Oppy

      James, I agree with almost all of your post, but I’m wondering- how do you personally see this offense even more improved?

      My first thought is “Improved Ground Game”, but then I find myself wondering- how good of a run game would it take to actually make it an asset to this offense?

      By that I mean, the ability to run the ball effectively is great for teams that need that balance in order to draw up defenders into the box in order to get the over the top passing game going… But the Packers have proven their air attack can get it done with only an honest run game, no more, no less. Would having a stellar backfield actually net this offense any tangible gains? I don’t know. It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but a run play for 12 isn’t any better than a pass play for 12, with the exception of clock control. But when your offense averages 30+ a game, who’s keeping track of time?

      But I digress.. What are your thoughts on offensive improvement?

      • PackEyedOptimist

        I absolutely agree that the offense should be even better…provided it remains injury-free. That doesn’t necessarily mean their ranking, or stats, etc. will be better, since the opposing defenses and their own defense affect those things. I expect Finley to drop fewer passes, Cobb to understand the offense better (a key development for a slot receiver), the running backs to be improved (all of them are learning the duties still and are very young), and most importantly: the offensive line is very young and should absolutely be better. I don’t expect Rodgers/Jennings/Nelson to regress. The only possible “loss” is Driver, but I believe the development of Cobb and others will more than make up for it. So to me it looks like the offense is the same or better.

      • James david Marsh

        I truely believe that the GB air attack will be much more lethal in the coming year. I see less drops and better all around depth at both the WR and TE positions. I also believe that the ground game will be more productive but will also fly through the air.

        • Oppy

          I think you both make excellent points about Cobb raising his game (i think he can be an “x-factor” type weapon from all over the field) and Finley finally living up to his potential. A screen game could also emerge. points well taken.

          Is it safe to say you both expect a record setting offense in 2012?

      • WisconsinAll*#34

        The passing game is good enough to beat any other defense in the league. But when you have a solid running game you control the game. Add a consistent back to Rodgers, Finley, and the WR corp and the Packers are unstoppable…possibly the best offense of all time

  • Big T

    The only way our defense gets better is if we play crappy offensive teams…

  • Ron LC

    It’s up to Capers, and MM to a lesser degree, to present a Defensive scheme that accomodates all the strengths and weaknesses of the personnel involved. The schemes used in 2011 were very unaggressive attempts to compensate for a D that had no direction. Thanks to the O they almost got away with it. Unfortunately, the one loss that counted was in a home game in the playoffs. I can’t explain why, after 16 games, no improvement ocurred.

    Message to Capers – Fix It!

    • Oppy

      Ron, I agree, but the “one loss that counted.. at home in the playoffs” was not a defensive failure. Oddly, it was an offensive collapse that spelled doom for the 2011 Packers’ Lombardi hopes.

      • Ron LC

        Actually, the last NYG play of the first half was the culprit. The worst pass defense I’ve ever seen.

        • Oppy

          Yeah, it’s horrible that they allowed the last second, hail mary TD to end the half.

          Doesn’t account for all the dropped passes and offensive turnovers.

        • toolkien

          In the last 20 years, teams that have turned the ball over 4 times in a playoff game have won 3 out of 42 times. That would seem to be the beginning and end of any culprits. Anything more that the defense could have done that they didn’t would simply have decreased the amount lost by, unless they had a high level of takeaways to a degree that they have done only a scant percent of the time in the TT/MM/AR era. It was turnovers that killed the Packers in 2011. And the unfortunate reality is if the defense does get back to, say, 2009 level, and the offense plays like it did last year, but they turn the ball over 4 times in 2012 playoff game X, the Packers will still wash out.

  • JR

    Bottom line, the Defense will be better.