The Green Bay Packers are hoping for a major step-up this season with their defense. There will be make-overs in the secondary as well as inside linebacker. But it will be up to the Packers defensive line to make the biggest jump this year in order to earn a trip to Super Bowl 50.
The experts argue that the lines on both offense and defense dictate the game. The Packers have developed a quality offensive line which resulted in the highest scoring offense in the league. Pro Football Focus ran its dynamics which show the Packers as the number-two overall ranked NFL offense.
The defensive line, if it contains properly and gets pressure on the short game, allows for greater flexibility in the backfield and a more effective pass rush from the edge. If they cannot stop the run, everything else begins to fall by the wayside.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 2014 version of the Packers was the second worst run defense in the league. Even after improving the second half of the season by moving Clay Matthews to the middle, which somewhat limited his pass rush ability, it was a sub-par outfit. In terms of overall defense, the Packers ranked 12th from the bottom. You simply cannot win championships with performance like that.
The defensive line has been an issue for years with only one true star in Mike Daniels. The remainder of the players are either untested or unfilled-promises. The depth chart as it now stands:
93 Boyd, Josh 13/5
95 Jones, Datone 13/1
94 Thornton, Khyri 14/3
78 Hooks, Lavon CF15
90 Raji, BJ 09/1
98 Guion, Letroy CC/Min
64 Pennel, Mike CF14
77 Ringo, Christian 15/6
76 Daniels, Mike 12/4
99 Gaston, Bruce P/Arz
In breaking down the defensive line statistics further – at the inside tackle positions the Packers had only one player, Letroy Guion (61), rank in the top 80 players according Pro Football Focus.
The team fared better on the outside where Mike Daniels was ranked 8th and Datone Jones ranked 22nd among 3-4 defensive ends. Yet Jones (who was a high acclaimed number one draft pick) was largely supplanted by years’ end at his position by free agent Josh Boyd who ranked considerably better in run defense by PPF than was Jones.
It can certainly be argued that the return of NT BJ Raji from injured reserve into the inside-role which he is most comfortable will help the team’s run game. But it has been four years since Raji seemed on his way to stardom only to play diminished roles ever since. It is not a given that Raji will be, or for that matter ever be, an inside force for the Packers.
The Packers carried six defensive lineman last year and given the increased emphasis on special teams and athletic play-makers, you can probably count on the same number again this year.
But the Packers have a dilemma on their hands. As a draft and develop team they give special emphasis and opportunity to their draft picks. But if their recent draft picks are not producing, then what?
So who will stick?
Daniels, of course, will and is due a contract extension soon. Raji and Guion are also players who should make the final cut as will Datone Jones. That is four.
Ringo is a recent draft choice so he will earn a roster player and that makes five.
I will likely come down to a choice between under-whelming Khyri Thornton and hard -charging and high effort players Mike Pennel and Josh Boyd. The Packers will give Thornton every opportunity to show he belongs especially after being selected so high in last years’ draft (3rd).
Thornton has a lot of catching up to do and given the need for run-stopping support and high energy players I like the chances of Pennel and/or Boyd.
The defensive line personnel will be one of the several key match-ups to watch in upcoming training camps.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .