On Monday, we graded the Packers offense through nine games. Today, we look at the defense.
Defensive Line: C-
If Mike McCarthy says the Packers are going to fix something in the offseason, they generally fix it. This offseason, what needed fixing was tackling. So far, the tackling appears fixed, and the Packers appear to have the right tools to make sure it doesn’t break again.
The Packers still give up too many runs where the running back gets stopped up the middle, but bounces outside for a big gain. Other than that, the front three (or four, or two, or sometimes one, however many people Dom Capers puts on the line), has been solid in run defense and tackling.
Ryan Pickett is having a strong season, highlighted by a dominant game against Arian Foster and the Texans when the Packers needed him most. Cross your fingers that the injury bug doesn’t infect Pickett because he’s a huge part of the improved run defense. C.J. Wilson has also quietly been decent against the run.
The overall grade comes down a bit because I’d still like to see more pass rush out of this group. Mike Daniels and Mike Neal have flashed occasionally. Jerel Worthy has had a few moments. But this group needs to be a little more consistent. I’m not expecting Packers linemen to rack up a ton of sacks, but there are too many occasions where Capers calls a blitz up the middle and it just gets swallowed up.
If the defensive line is doing a better job of winning its one-on-one battles (I’m looking at you, Raji) and creating chaos (c’mon, Worthy), those inside blitzing lanes open up and the Packers can get in the quarterback’s face.
Remember back in school when your teacher made you do group assignments? It usually ended up being one really smart and really motivated kid doing most of the work and the entire group taking credit.
That really smart and motivated kid was Clay Matthews last season. Mathews is even smarter and more motivated this season, but now the rest of his group has decided to also pitch in.
First and foremost, D.J. Smith (before he went down) and Brad Jones deserve a lot of credit for filling in for Desmond Bishop. Neither is a playmaker like Bishop, but they’ve held the position together and generally have done what needs doing.
Erik Walden finally got an entire offseason with the team and is having an excellent season. How excellent? I’ll let Bob McGinn explain:
Walden’s numbers are almost identical to Matthews’ in a number of key statistical categories. Walden’s production is listed first, Matthews’ production second:
Tackles per snap (one every 11.9, one every 14.7); tackles for loss (three, two); missed tackles (one, two); turnover plays (one, one); passes defensed (four, three); plays of 20 yards or more allowed (one, two); and touchdown passes allowed (one, one).
Rushing the passer is the only area in which Matthews is superior. His total of nine sacks dwarf’s Walden’s one, and he has a 2-to-1 margin in all pressures, 33½ to 15.
Putting A.J. Hawk on a snap count seems to have upped his energy exponentially. He’s faded a bit the last two games, so let’s hope the bye gets him going again.
It looks like Matthews will be out for a bit with a hamstring injury. Now is when we’ll find out for sure if Matthews is still the one doing all the work in this group, or if the others finally deserve some of the credit as well.
The future is bright for this group. Casey Hayward is doing his best Charles Woodson impression and Davon House has the size necessary to match up against bigger receivers.
Tramon Williams is Tramon Williams: Reliable. Sam Shields looked more aggressive before he got hurt and I’m looking forward to his return from a knee injury.
I don’t want to write any more about the cornerbacks. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far and I don’t want to jinx it.
How’s that for groundbreaking analysis?
Will Morgan Burnett ever fill the void left by Nick Collins?
Maybe that’s setting the bar too high, but it’s a reasonable question to ask. Burnett is good. He makes the routine plays and is assignment-sure, for the most part.
But I’m used to having a dynamic safety back there, someone who can anticipate a floating pass right away, sprint across the field, and pick it off on the sideline. Burnett isn’t dynamic yet. If he becomes dynamic, this defense will be tough to deal with.
Moving Woodson to safety has been a bit of a yawner. He can’t get to the quarterback any more and he struggles in coverage. Now he’s hurt.
The news is better for Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings. McMillian likes to tackle Jennings has recovered nicely from the Fail Mary fiasco.
There has been little to complain about at safety for the Packers this season. But if just one of the backstops can take their game to another level, it could drastically improve the defense overall.——————