Which Packers Defensive Players Took the Biggest Step Backward in 2011?

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Sam Shields - Green Bay Packers defensive back
Shields just one of many who had down years...

Man, this blog has turned into a depressing place this week. Scroll through the titles of the last couple of posts and you’ll see words like “regression” and “loss” mixed with phrases like “it’s over” and “fart in the wind.”

It’s probably best to make sure you don’t have any sharp objects nearby while reading.

This post is no exception. After coming up big in 2010, several Packers on defense took a step backwards. Who regressed the most?

Tramon Williams
After Williams got the best of Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving, I thought the Tramon of 2010 was back. It looked like he was healthy and ready to blanket the other team’s No. 1 receiver as the Packers headed down the home stretch.

It didn’t happen.

Instead of taking the next step and establishing himself as a legit No. 1 CB in the NFL, Williams started giving up big play after big play. In addition to struggling in coverage, Williams was a tackling liability (his tackling was especially pathetic in the Christmas game against the Bears). He capped his lackluster season by allowing seven catches in eight attempts for 125 yards in the playoff loss to the Giants.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Williams was watching him constantly line up 10 yards off the receiver he was matched against, even on plays  when the offense needed five yards or fewer for a first down. Maybe Williams’ shoulder never healed after the Saints game. Maybe he did the best he could with the Packers bad pass rush. Maybe he missed Nick Collins.

Either way, Williams regressed in 2011.

A.J. Hawk
Mike McCarthy spent a good part of his season-ending news conference talking about how bad his team’s tackling was this season. He could’ve saved everyone some time and showed film of Hawk bouncing off ball carriers or getting dragged for three extra yards after initial contact on play after play.

Hawk signed a 5-year, $34 million contract in the offseason and did very little to justify the Packers’ investment. After averaging almost seven tackles per game in 2010, Hawk only managed 5.5 in 2011. He was also a major liability in pass coverage.

The intangibles that Hawk supposedly provided as the defensive signal caller also proved to be expendable. The Packers defense seemed to function just fine with D.J. Smith calling the shots when Hawk missed a few games with a calf injury.

Hawk’s 2010 season put him in good favor with most Packers fans. His regression in 2011 returns him to the familiar role of team punching bag.

Sam Shields
Almost as frustrating as watching Tramon give WRs a 10-yard cushion was watching Shields get pushed around by whomever he was trying to guard.

I’m probably being a little too harsh on Shields — he’s only played CB for two seasons — but he definitely regressed. Shields should benefit from an offseason where he can get coached up on proper technique and form. He could also use a kick in the behind to get him more aggressive when the ball is in the air and meaner when making a tackle.

Maybe Shields regression was to be expected, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Hopefully it was more growing pains than a permanent step backward.

Charlie Peprah
Lets be clear: Peprah is a backup. He doesn’t belong in the starting lineup. It’s unfair to judge him against starting safeties.

However, Peprah spent most of this season playing below even a backup level. He got burned over and over again on deep throws, had no chance covering tight ends, and seemed to equate tackling with the game of pinball (see Hakeem Nicks’s first TD on Sunday).

Peprah filled in adequately last season when he teamed with pro-bowler Nick Collins. There was no Collins to cover for Peprah in 2011, and it showed.

It’s unrealistic to expect Peprah to be something he’s not. But there’s nothing wrong with expecting Peprah to at least be an adequate backup. He never even reached that level.

Dishonorable Mention
Mike Neal, Erik Walden and Howard Green.


Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .


26 thoughts on “Which Packers Defensive Players Took the Biggest Step Backward in 2011?

  1. For the 1,137,883rd time among Packer faithful, I will point out that the loss of CJ and NC along with TT’s failure to balance the talent issues on the DL and ROLB in the draft as reasons for the Packers defensive decline.

    Now that that’s out of the way, on to the issue.

    Football, as the ultimate team game, is the sum of its parts. It wasn’t the glaring stattistics that either CJ or NC put up themselves, but the critical role they played in complimeting the effectiveness of the players around them, or that were at the next level in the defensive cascade.

    Think about the right side of the Packers D. Where was the biggest fall-off? Pressure from the right side, LB play from the right side, Sam Sheilds in coverage, usually on the right side. CJ was so much more than his numbers. He made Raji, Walden, Zombo, Shields all more effective – the cascade effect as plays progress in time and space downfield. Collins as safety was that last line of defense. Remove those 2 components and we all witnessed the results, much more meaningful and impactful than the loss of Barnett, Chillar, Poppinga et al to injury last season, because the replacments weren’t crtitcal to the defense, moreso complimentary.

    Much has been promoted about the relationship between TT and MM, and their greatness in each of their roles. I hope that in evaluating personnel this offseason, they do a better job of considering how particular players impact is not so much reflected by their numbers, but how they make the other players adjacent to them or downline of them more effective.

    1. Man. if you could just edit out that first line ending with the word “faithful”, you’d look so much smarter, and maybe more people would actually pay attention! First impessions are a Bi.tch.

      1. Appreciate the insight. I’ve always heard that the strength of one’s faith is in part measured by your ability to question your beliefs but still remain committed to them.

        1. I like your post Savage, and I couldn’t agree more that it is time for TT and MM to step up to the plate and get it done regarding evaluation of existing talent. Maybe they, like so many Packer fans saw some ‘golden egg’ some where that never really materialized. Those types of mistakes are evident in the fact the Packers are at home, watching the playoffs.

          1. Sorry for the dbl post, but I can’t help but bring up the fact that the defense also looked “Lost” for most of the year and the tackling was the worst I’ve ever seen. Some of this has got to be coaching.

    2. The defense was still terrible against NO and CAR w/ Collins in there.

      Jenkins missed 5 games in 2010. W/out him the Packers gave up 24, 7, 31, 17, and 3 points.

      Obviously, it would have been nice to have those two players on the field. But if the guys that were left tackled and played fundamental coverage like they’re capable of doing, this defense wouldn’t have been as bad as it was.

    3. Do you think the Eagles would give us Jenkins back right now? It was a bad signing. That’s life in the salary cap. It didn’t help that we had a talented player that couln’t get rid of his cough.

      1. Somebody in the comments section yesterday suggested we trade Hawk for Jenkins straight up 🙂

        1. We might not have to trade anyone, Jenkins is due a $5M (I think) roster bonus in March. Philly gonna pay that?

  2. Adam, Where is the name Raji, he doesn’t even make the ‘dishonorable mention’ list? Wow!

  3. No rush was the root cause of all the Defensive problems. Instead of the very effective press zone of 2010 they were forced into a deep soft zone and hoped coverage could be maintained. It wasn’t.

    Add to that the total lack of tackling competence and you had a formula for disaster. Yet game after game the Ofense was able to over come the poor Defensive performance.

    Th only good thing was the ability of the Defense to gather in turnovers. However, when the Ofense had their inevitable bad games (KC and NY) they were unable to overcome the defensive blunders.

    That said the problems are not as severe as it may appear on the surface. A focused draft (Dline, ROLB, DB, and Oline) and use of the FA market to get a playmaker to compliment CM3 would go a long way to make us forget the inability to finish off an otherwise great season.

    Oh and teaching the skill of TACKLING should be high on the priority list.

  4. Why the shift away from press coverage to soft zone? Was that simply due to the loss of Nick Collins (and Cullen Jenkins)? Or due to a demonstrated lack of tackling ability? Or what?

    Why did we have such a drop off in tackling ability? Coaching? Lack of off-season program due to the lockout? Or what?

    I’m totally baffled by the 2011 version of the Packers defense. What do you think was going on here?

  5. CM3 took a big step back, too, but I think it more in the way Capers was using him this season after losing Jenkins in free agency.

  6. I also am not sure Hawk belongs on the regressed list, because was never much of anything from which to regress. Last year no differently he could not cover, he never attacked the runner, though yes, this year, it was even worse.

  7. There’s no way to just vote for one player on your list. they all regressed. The whole defense regressed catastrophically as a unit. They went from a Superbowl top 5 defense to an embarrassing last place defense in the span of one year. I didn’t even think that was possible when 90% of the starters and the coaching staff were the same as the year before.

    As far as individuals, Pickett is the only player that may have played better. Bishop and Mathews were steady. Really can’t include Burnett because he’s just a kid learning on the job. But the rest of the players definitely regressed. As a unit, they get a D-

    1. I think Dan summed it up for me. How can you chose just one? But since Adam’s question relates to the degree of fall-off, I would have to pick Tramon in that he played very well last year but not well at all this year. Part of that could be attributed to the bad shoulder, but I have a feeling being amidst a poor group of secondary players didn’t help either. I think the gap between Tramons performance last year to this year was the highest on the D, but that doesn’t mean I believe he’s our worst D player. Now that could be another interesting question.

      1. Our worst player on D? I’d go with Walden. Peprah is probably the worst, but like I said in the post, it’s not entirely fair to compare him to starters.

  8. Adam, no mention of CW? He’s slower than last year, he misses too many times going for the pick and getting burned resulting in big plays, not making the blitz sacks like he used to do, falling down when getting beat on a receiver move. Even on the Hail Mary he was behind Nicks instead of in front. No excuse, with his experience he should have known better.

    1. I’ll take Woodson’s playmaking ability on my team every Sunday. Sure he regressed some, but he’s old. Regression happens to old players.

      The players I mentioned in the post are too young to blame old age for their regression.

    2. I realize that we are discussing the defense here and the tackling and poor coverage on big plays was a problem all season but let’s keep in mind that the offense cost our ‘Pack the Giant game. Give me back the 6 dropped passes,the 3 big misses by Rodgers, and some dubious coaching decisions and I’ll take my chances that we are still playing. Having said that the defense needs help on the line and at speed on the corners and safety. Also, don’t forget that Tramon Williams played with a nerve injury in his shoulder all season. That type of injury only gets better with a lot of rest and may never come back completely.
      Since ’61

  9. People need to realize that even the best cornerbacks need safety help; I’m so disappointed that 38% of people believe that Tramon Williams took the biggest step back. My vote was for Charlie Peprah by far.

    1. Tramon Williams took the biggest step backward. Just last year, people were talking about him possibly becoming a top 3 CB in the league. This year, he had possibly one of the worst regressions we’ve seen in recent years in the NFL. The safety thing is a decent excuse, but a #1 really good CB does not rely on the safety to help him make plays.

  10. Savage57 hit the nail on head, Jenkins and Collins absense made a HUGE difference in this defense. Without pressure Capers didn’t seem confidant in bump and run by Woodson, Williams at the line,DB’s played too far off and Shields and Peprah was a glaring weakness in seconday. FOR ONCE, McCarthy should make camp a TACKLE, TACKLE, TACKLE, exercise–hire Refrigerator Perry to come out of retirement–make Packer LB’s and DB’s tackle him all day until they do it right or they’re dragged off an someone else signed to play their positions. It’s a big problem with many teams, CHAMPIONS can’t tolerate poor tackling at any position. GB’s defense in ’12 MUST have pressure from the D-line, can’t continue to live on the blitz and DB’s MUST be able to blanket receivers. If GB had a defense equal to that of Ravens, 49ers or Steelers–this team would be playing for SB46 this year.

  11. I put a lot more blame on Capers than most. To me it was obvious that the only way for this team to play competitive defensive football was a heavy blitz package(5 or 6) with tight man coverage.

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