Fixing the Packers Defense up the Middle All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Charles Woodson
Will Charles Woodson at safety improve the Packers defense up the middle?

Doesn’t it seem like the middle of the field is 20 yards wider whenever the Packers defense is out there?

Packers defenders always seem a step behind covering a receiver down the middle and off-balance when trying to make an open-field tackle between the hash marks. If teels like there’s too much space for them to cover.

Green Bay struggled to cover the middle of the field last season, even before Nick Collins got hurt. So far this preseason, it doesn’t look like much has improved.

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s early, but man, I don’t think I can handle another season of Packers’ corners giving receivers a 10-yard cushion, then looking helpless as opposing teams pick apart the middle.

I realize the middle of the field is difficult to defend for all teams, not just the Packers. I also realize that every offense tries to attack the middle, especially in this day and age of rules that favor offense, tight ends that can’t be covered and quarterbacks that are as accurate in real life as they are in the Madden football video game.

If the Packers want to shore up how they defend the middle of the field, here’s what needs to happen:

  • Pass rush. Specifically, get pressure up the middle. QB pressure cures a lot of problems, but getting pressure up the middle is one of the few things that seems to rattle today’s quarterbacks. Teams need to find ways to prevent quarterbacks from stepping into their throws and staying in rhythm. A pass rush from the outside definitely helps, but it doesn’t take much for an athletic QB to make one move, slip away, and make plays outside the pocket. A pass rush up the middle helps keep the QB contained. Losing Desmond Bishop hurt the Packers pass rush up the middle, but hopefully Jerel Worthy can generate some pressure. Otherwise, it will be up to Dom Capers to scheme something.
  • Charles Woodson. We’ll see how the Woodson at safety experiment plays out. Either way the Packers need him down the middle. Woodson isn’t scared to stick his nose in there and be physical, and with Bishop out, I’m not sure who else can cover a good tight end. Let’s not forget about tackling, either. Watching the Packers try to tackle in the open field resembles a clown show. Woodson’s tackling is nothing to laugh at, though, and it needs to stay that way.
  • Defensive scheme.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m an X’s and O’s expert, but I have a hard time believing that the Packers struggles up the middle don’t have at least something to do with scheme. Teams continually attacked Capers’ defense up the middle last season, and it didn’t seem like he ever adjusted (I don’t consider moving your corners even further off the line to be much of an adjustment). A consistent pass rush, sound tackling and fundamentally sound DBs will make any scheme look good, but some of this falls on Capers as well. Players need to be put in the proper position in order to succeed. Specifically what types of adjustments should Capers be making? Hey, I’m just a blogger. That’s up to Capers to figure out.

It’s not rocket science. Rushing the passer, tackling and making schematic adjustments seem like obvious fixes to any defensive struggles, but if the Packers can just improve in one of these areas, they’ll be better on defense, especially up the middle.

(Honorable mention improvements that I left off the list: B.J. Raji returning to form, A.J. Hawk recreating his 2009 season and another step forward for Morgan Burnett.)


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 .


40 thoughts on “Fixing the Packers Defense up the Middle

  1. Raji definitely needs help pushing up the middle, and his name is Worthy. If BJ has the chore alone we’ll have a re-run of last year. That spells disaster, IMO.

    1. I’m on record, and re-affirming I’m all in on Mike Daniels being more of a factor on interior pass rush than Jerel Worthy in 2012.

      Just call it a hunch.

  2. I’ll add a 4th bullet point:

    *Every linebacker outside of Clay Matthews (especially the young guys) need to hit the proper depth on their zone drops.

    I re-watched both pre-season games and the linebackers were almost always way to shallow. D.J. Smith’s all-around play is a breath of fresh air, but he’s missed a few plays by being too shallow, which he can’t afford to do as an incredibly short linebacker that doesn’t exactly force seem passes vertically.

    Everything you mentioned above, along with this and keeping plays in front of defenders by actually tackling will make a huge difference.

    Worthy and Daniels will flash with the occasional play, even difference making play, but I hope fans have realistic expectations about what they can do over a 16 game season plus playoffs. Difference making rookie defensive lineman are rare.

    1. THAT, in a nutshell, is a BIG contributor to this problem. Hawk and Bishop have never been great at getting the proper depth to their drops. You would expect the quicker Smith to do better, and as you mention, it’s even more important for him due to his lack of size. I had hope for Terrell Manning in this regard but so far he has been MIA in camp…

      1. Gets back a little to scheme IMO. Or at least coaching. To compensate for lack of quickness, perhaps line up a little deeper.

        Again, I’m far from an X’s and O’s expert, but it seems like there are ways to at least try and fix things like LB drop depth.

      2. watch urlacher get a drop in zone coverage and you quickly realized how awful our ILBs are at it. granted, urlacher may be the best ever at getting to his drop, but the hole between the safeties and LBs was always large last year. that makes the safeties job twice as hard. they have to make a choice instead of just playing the deep third.

        1. Urlacher is a Tampa-2 MLB, his number one job description in that scheme is “Cover the deep middle of the field”, it is his FIRST responsibility.

          Of course he drops like a demon- his first step, unless he is on a called blitz, is almost always going to be a back peddle. Coverage first, react to everything else.

      1. Some of us comment in comments sections because we like to actively discuss the Packers. What’s wrong with that?

  3. Just a side-note, I really want to see more of Lattimore in sub-packages. I believe he’s the best pure athlete on the depth chart playing on the inside and I’m really curious to see how he evolves in coverage and how he attacks the line of scrimmage on that cross-buck blitz.

      1. It’s not just his speed. He’s really natural flipping his hips when turning to run in coverage, has great lateral movement and can plant a foot and move forward very abruptly when pressing the line of scrimmage to blitz or tackle.

        Just begs the question, can he learn the position quickly enough, and thoroughly enough, to be assignment sure and not over-process his assignments. The kid can really be something if he puts it all together. Really, really fluid in the limited reps I’ve seen him drop and move.

  4. Smith quicker? Sorry I don’t think so. And if anything because of his being short he will be a liability against ALL TE’s and even taller RB’s.
    He is not much of an athlete at all.
    He makes plays because of damn good instincts, and hustle.
    But going against the top TE’s and RB’s scares me.

    So we are saying that these LB’s can’t drop deep enough or are just not doing it?
    They are dropping where they are assigned to drop to.
    Now if you want to get into there ability to turn and run with a someone on the under routes or crossing routes you might have something.
    The reciever or TE’s or who ever is going to run where they are not, under them over them what ever.
    The problem is them making adjustments and reacting to what is being run.

    Lattimore is the most gifted physically of the ILB’s.
    I like what he has shown and IMO should replace Smith as the starting ILB.

    I think the defense as a whole is to much for Manning right now. Unless he starts to show something it will be the practice squad for him.

    1. I thought Smith looked like he dropped and got in good position with proper leverage against at certain TE running in the seam. His jersey said “GATES” on the back.

      If he did it once, he can do it again.

      There’s a reason Smith was taking all the #1 reps as the lone LB in dime all camp, even when Bishop was healthy. Smith is a decent cover backer, even if he’s diminutive in stature. He has been noted to have a knack for tipping passes, too.

  5. How many times did we watch as our opponent faced 3rd and 15 and throw
    a dump pass for a first down?
    How many times did we blitz up the gut
    only to get bottled up by the opponents
    Last year is over but still fresh in our
    minds.D-Coach Capers got plenty of help in the draft and free agency…it’s on him to see this thing through!

    1. That is because Green Bay is in a 3-Deep Zone Cross Blitz. From a 3-deep zone, with the strong safety and two cornerbacks as the three deep covering pass defenders, the cross blitz attacks the line of scrimmage with both the strong-side and weak-side linebackers. The strong-side linebacker crosses over and blitzes into the weak-side linebacker’s side, while the weak-side linebacker follows slightly behind him and to the strong side of the offensive line. With three shallow zones, the free safety covers one of the middle zones, leaving one shallow zone uncovered. This is effective only in deep passing plays, as short passes will exploit that gap. Which keeps happening because there is limited pass rush up the middle last year.

  6. Out of all the topics discussed on this site, this is the no1 subject that needs to be addressed. Last years D was baffling and is this year so far. I’m hoping we get a glimpse of some kind of progress in the Cinn game this week and I’m praying that things get better by the start of the season. I hate the cushion the DBs give the most. DC had one good season against the pass since he was hired. If he can get this D together this year, then let’s look in a different direction.

    1. 2009 Packers, #2 Total D, #5 pass D, #1 Run D

      2010 Packers, #5 Total D, #5 pass D, # 18 Run D

      2011 Packers, #32 Total D, #32 pass D, #14 run D

      Out of Dom’s three seasons, I’d think you’d give him the benefit of doubt and look at 2011 as the anomaly, not the trend.

      It’s his first season outside of the top 5 in pass defense OR total defense.

      Just so happens it was a season that saw their best press-man cover corner get severe nerve damage to his shoulder (week 1) only to go on to see the loss of their all-pro caliber safety the following week.

      I’m actually more concerned that they went from the #1 run D in 2009, and plummeted down to #18 the following year… Probably the only reason they rebounded to #14 in 2011 was because of the “Shoot-out” factor teams were faced with trying to keep up with Rodgers.

      That’s the way I look at it, at any rate. Let’s see what this season brings. I’m not ready to hang Capers out quite yet.

  7. Typo…if he CAN’T get this D together playing sound football, then I’m all for getting someone who can, I realize that he lacked some personal last year, but, I’m starting to think the scheme and mentality has to improve, also.

  8. Guys. Chill. We are TWO PREseason games in. Yes, the whole team has looked bad. No, it doesn’t mean a darn thing.

    Capers D was great in 10. Trouble with blown assignments in 09. Bad tackling and blown assignments in 11. Great a turnovers all 3 years.

    Let’s revisit this topic in about week 5.

    back off the ledge.

    1. Don’t..Push…Me…Cuz..I’m..On…The…Ledge / I’m…Tryin’..Not..To…Lose..My.. Head

      aha HA HA HA

        1. I don’t think we’re standing on the ledge. Just talking Packers. That’s what we do.

          1. Adam – we’re always talking about PROBLEMS. I understand talking about what’s wrong is naturally more appealing that what is right (just look at the 6pm news for evidence)…

            Look. I was born in ’81. I remember Green Bay with Lindy Infante, Don Majkowsi, Jeff Query and Tim Harris. And a bunch of JAG’s filled out the rest of the roster. We finished 4-12 EVERY STINKING YEAR!

            This team is a GREAT team. Not a good team. A GREAT ONE.

            We can all appreciate this, right???

            Let’s APPRECIATE what we’ve got.

            1. We do! Discussing mostly problems doesn’t show a lack of appreciation. We all appreciate things in different ways, I guess.

  9. All you have to do is look at Capers coaching over the years. He go’s to a new team, they do well for two years and by year 3 or 4, the bottom of the NFL in defense. Everytime without fail. I really hope that he’s able to fix his leaks this year but his entire coaching career suggests more of 2011 all over again. His ENTIRE coaching career. T.T. went out and got him some horses. Like mentioned, it’s rare rookies save the day. I’d settle for a healthy Devon House, a rookie year for Perry of 8 to 10 sacks and Matthews back to 13.5 sacks. That would move the defense up 15 spots and with our offense and Superbowl.

  10. What are you saying Adam? AJ Hawk actually had a good year? No way…over paid puss, it should have been him to blow his hamstring out instead of Bishop. Hell, GB needed Bishop, no one would have missed Hawk.

    1. I don’t see how anyone could possibly come away with the notion that I said AJ Hawk had a good year after reading the post or my subsequent comments.

  11. Well, I stand corrected, but saying if Hawk returns to his 2009 form; only implies he was good. but hey, I can understand your being repulsed I wouldnt want anyone even remotely saying I thought Hawk had a good year.

    1. Why wouldn’t you want a player to have a good year? Because it would mean you were wrong about him? SMH…

  12. Leave Moses at OLB and move Perry to DE where he can play the rush and then bull rush all day. Seems like the only things he can do well.

    1. I’ll refer you to my earlier post. It’s PREseason. And he’s a rook.

      Let’s give him a year or two to catch on, huh?

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