Green Bay Defense Relying On Young Depth All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Nate Palmer Green Bay Packers
Nate Palmer is one of the young guys who may be called upon to step in and help.

The Green Bay Packers will be without two of their defensive starters for at least this week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.  Outside linebacker Clay Matthews reportedly had successful surgery on his broken thumb and will be out at least a month, probably longer.  Inside linebacker Brad Jones suffered a hamstring injury and was ruled out of this week’s game on Wednesday.

Losing Matthews is a huge blow to the Packers and their pass rush.  Replacing him is impossible and I need not break down the many reasons why.  He is the team’s best defensive player and the heartbeat of that side of the ball.

In Jones, the Packers are losing yet another solid contributor to their defense.  Jones stepped last season amidst a few injuries and has maintained his starting role along side of AJ Hawk.  According to Pro Football Focus, Jones ended up with a +7.3 overall rating in 2012 and scored equally well in both pass and run defense with a +4.6.  So far in 2013, Jones has a +3.9 rating.  While not stellar, Jones has been OK in pass coverage, an area that Packers linebackers have lacked in.  Now Green Bay is faced with trying to plug these two holes.

Mike Neal will assume one of the outside linebacker spots opposite Nick Perry.  ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde ran an interesting piece on Neal’s transformation to OLB.  Perry had success coming off of the right side and so Neal could line up left.  Both had a decent showing against Detroit and any similar production would come in very handy at Baltimore.

At middle linebacker, the Packers went from thin to thinner on Sunday.  After Jones was lost, Robert Francois filled in.  Francois then suffered a torn Achilles and has already been placed on season-ending injured reserve.  Francois was replaced by Jamari Lattimore.  Lattimore will likely remain with the first unit in the team’s base 3-4 defense.

Behind these incumbents, the Packers will rely on their young and unproven depth to step in and contribute, where needed.  Sixth round draft pick Nate Palmer, seventh rounder Sam Barrington and undrafted free agent Andy Mulumba will all be asked to support the current starting cast.

Palmer has played a total of one snap on special teams in week three against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Mulumba has played a total of 31 snaps over three games and has not made any type of impact.  Barrington has also only been on special teams thus far this season, although a more regular contributor.  Still, I doubt that the Packers expected this seventh rounder out of Illinois State to potentially become a bigger part of the team’s defense in 2013.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy tends to take a very conservative approach to inserting untested young guys in the lineup and for good reason.  After starting off with a few outstanding runs against the Bengals, rookie running back Johnathan Franklin fumbled on his last carry of the game, which lead to a turnover and touchdown that put Cincinnati ahead for good.  Say what you will about the play call, the offensive line or whatever other external factor there was, but Franklin fumbled.  He had another this past weekend.  For this reason, McCarthy likes to ease his youth into regular playing time and when a potential misstep is less likely to hurt the team.

Palmer, Barrington and Mulumba will all remain active on game days while the team awaits the returns of Jones and Matthews, but just how much playing time each will see is unknown.  This is assuming that Mulumba’s absence from practice this week isn’t an indication that he will also miss time.

If Neal and Perry are healthy and productive, they may play every snap.  In that scenario, it would be a bit of a luxury if the young guys can get any kind of significant reps because it likely means the game is in hand in Green Bay’s favor.  The other side of the coin is that Neal or Perry are hurt and suddenly the Packers are paper thin at linebacker.

Earlier this week, Green Bay added even more young depth as they promoted cornerback James Nixon from the practice squad and signed cornerback Jumal Rolle to fill Nixon’s spot.  This could be an indication that the Packers intend to find some of that lost production at linebacker from their defensive backfield.  We could see quite a bit of the team’s nickel package if that theory holds true.

If Green Bay is going to emerge from these next six games with minimal damage and a winning record, these young guys are all going to have to play a role.  It’s times like this when some current starters took that next step.  Tramon Williams is a prime example.  Is the next Tramon among this crop?



Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on

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35 thoughts on “Green Bay Defense Relying On Young Depth

  1. Every year injuries deplete key spots and untested guys have to step up. Look at last year’s o-line and linebacker. Out of nowhere appear guys like Brad Jones or EDS or Barclay. Just think of previous years – guys pop up from the seemingly dry well; Harris, Bush, Moses, Francois, Walden, Zombo, Flynn, Starks, Shields, … the list gets pretty long. I remember the sense of impending doom, thinking who are these guys? They seem always to do it. There always seems to be someone up for the challenge, to do a adequate to sometimes great job. And, the Packers keep on WINNING. Most other teams don’t do that. Its a great reflection on Murphy, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and the coaches, as well as the players I’m looking forward to it again. Lattimore? Palmer? Barrington? Mulumba? Some other as of yet unknown quantity? Who’s the next diamond to be unearthed?

  2. Replacing Matthews is not impossible! Last year when he was out we won 3 of 4 IIRC. And I will be upset w/ anything less than that this year. That’s not to say Matthews isn’t a great player, but in the short term they’ve shown they can get by w/o him. The ability shown by Perry and Neal last week in Matthews absence has to give fans some confidence. Bottom line for a short time like a month the Packers are more than capable of having a productive Defense w/o Matthews, not to mention winning w/o him. Last year they did it with Walden and Moses. This year they’ll have Perry and Neal which is a huge upgrade!

    1. I agree. Thought hit me, what does it say about a player when they can win w/o him? Yes it speaks to the team, but what about that player?

      1. Sorry…my point…
        I’m posing the question…what does it say? I’m not implying it says anything about replace-ability…I’m asking…What does it say?

      2. How do you figure? If they can win without a player that is the definition of being replaceable. I would call that obvious! Notice I’m not talking about a full season here… packers are better w him for sure but I don’t think he’s irreplaceable.

        1. Bedrock, my response was more for Stroh and I get what you’re saying but the Packers winning without Matthews doesn’t mean that the other 21 guys didn’t have something to do with it. It just means they beat whoever they played that week.

          Replacing Matthews, in the true sense of the word “replace” is different than still winning a game without him. If Rodgers goes down and the Packers still win, does that mean that their chances of winning other games without him are increased? Not necessarily. It really only means the Packers won a single game without him. Over a period of time, I don’t think many would take their chances without a player of that caliber and that is why I say “irreplaceable”. Matthews is in an elite category as a defensive player in the NFL, at any position.

          1. Last I checked the NFL is about winning games. If you can win as successfully w/o a player as you can w/ him then he’s replaceable. Can the Packers be a 10-12 game winner w/o Matthews? I think they can… That makes him replaceable in my eyes. There is no denying the Packers are better w/ him, than w/o. But that doesn’t necessarily always translate to more wins either.

            If a team can be expected to have about the same record w/ or w/o, it defines replaceable.

            1. Jason is disagreeing with this:
              “win as successfully w/o a player as you can w/ him.”

              In any case its a completely unprovable assertion either way. The only way you could claim that is after the season and if they win the Super Bowl — if they lose a playoff game along the way, maybe thats the one they would have won because of Matthews.

    2. Last year it was Perry AND Matthews out. This year only one of them is out and Neal is outplaying Perry. Should not be a problem with the new beef on the D-Line and our starting safety back.

      With Matthews out, the Pack is still about as healthy as they have been all year. I predict that 88 will get a couple of redzone TDs.

  3. Against Capers beloved 34, having a hybrid DT/DE/OLB like Neal out there may give the defense a little more of a 43 feel. Neal and Perry will usually rush on passing downs in our nickel, becoming basically DEs.
    In the end, it’s about gap responsibility to stop the run. The front 7 should continue to plug and stop with the DL playing well. The passing defense is where we’ll hurt. The rush will suffer. The secondary will need to pick it up. Might we see more Micah Hyde who showed great instincts and tackling playing near the LOS?

    1. agree with Tim & Stroh. I’m enthused to see who will emerge and who won’t. Sorry, i’m not a Bush fan so he can stay gone, Neal & Perry time to do their thing and Mr. Williams needs to get back to where he was; we need speed on defense and agility and good play calls on both sides of the ball. Surprisingly ole Hawk is playing well and maybe as well as he’s ever played

    2. A big part of what Neal and Perry must do is set the edges and drive the runner into the big guys. Both can do this better than those guys that filled in last year. For the pass, they will be helped by the guys inside pushing and keeping the QB from stepping up out of their rush.

  4. The team has an uncanny ability to stay short of the tipping point when the holes are so large and many the the short term stopgaps aren’t enough to get wins. As long as it does the job, duct tape, string, smoke and mirrors are enough. and maybe there are monkeys flying out of butts. They’re playoff bound every year despite depleted ranks, and in the superbowl discussion.

  5. The football gods give have stricken the Green Bay Packers with numerous injuries year in and year out for the same reason God cursed the Irish with whiskey…

    1. I’m still most upset at their taking Nick Collins from us – we’re owed big time for that crap!

  6. In the bigger picture, if the Packers can go 3-1 or something like that while CM3 is out, it will build depth for the playoff run and maybe make the Packers a better December/January team.

    I think this team is going to be tough to beat late in the season. They are still learning how to use Lacy and the defense has a lot of guys early in their careers and playing new positions. They should get much better as the season wears on.

  7. Read all the blogs and there is a consensus that the back-ups, especially at LB, are going to have to step-up in replacing CMIII and Brad Jones. As far as A.J. Hawk, I thought Pro Football Focus cleared this up earlier this week: he is their lowest-rated Packers defensive starter. One thing we can all agree on (I think) with Hawk, for the bulk of his career he has stayed healthy and played almost every week in eight seasons. That in itself is commendable. He has not been and most likely never will be a playmaker: a player who creates interceptions, forced fumbles, and gets sacks…

    1. John Willard, your points are well taken concerning A.J. Hawk. I also review Pro Football Focus, and what you are stating is a fact. According to how they analyze all the starters on the Packers defense, Hawk is rated dead last. That being said, somehow over the past eight years, while he seldom records a sack, causes a forced fumble, or makes an interception, he has largely avoided the injury bug which over the past few years seems like it has hit every starter but Hawk. So, he plays every week. One of the bloggers from a few articles ago titled him ‘pedestrian’, average or commonplace. That is exactly my view of him. Not a playmaker, not a big hitter. But, an average ILB who plays every week and makes tackles. By the way, who are the three individuals who ‘Disliked’ Mr. Willard’s objective comments? What is there to ‘Dislike’ with the objective truth?

  8. The lack of a Packers pass rush without Clay Matthews III is greatly exaggerated.

    As I’ve commented before, last season the Packers D was #4 in the league in sacks (Even though Clay Matthews missed a full quarter of the regular season.)

    Things have started slowly this season, but they seem to every year for the Packers. CM3 has three sacks on the year; Nick Perry has two; Mike Neal has one, Mike Daniels has one. Neal and Daniels both are on the field for limited reps so far this season. I believe Daniels has more pressures per snap than any other defender thus far, and Neal isn’t far off.

    Utlimately, I’m in no way concerned about pass rush w/o CMIII (or Brad Jones, or Francois). We’re going to get the pressures.

    That said, what’s going to hurt is our run defense. Yes, our improved line play makes a huge difference. You still need the OLBs to set the edges and turn the runs inside for the DL to have any effect in the run game, and you still need the ILBs to make the appropriate reads and fill the correct gaps.

    The loss of CMIII is going to be felt in the coming games, but I think many are focusing on the wrong area. It’s going to be the run D, not pressuring the QB, that suffers most.

    I am very concerned about

    1. I’d be interested to see some stats on the team’s production in terms of QB pressure with Matthews out. Yes, he missed time last year and they were among lead leaders in sacks, but how did they fare in those pressure categories during his absence? Do we know for certain that Matthews wasn’t a big contributor to the team’s overall performance last year?

      Matthews creates a lot, both for himself and for others. When he is out, the defense currently has to do a lot to make up for it. MLB’s don’t get home enough and pressure from the defensive backs has been downright horrible since Woodson declined and Collins left.

      You’re right in that the run defense could take a step back without CM3 and the D line will need to be stout to limit cutback lanes or lanes at all.

      At the end of it all, the major point is that this team misses Matthews when he’s gone. Arguing that they don’t is just an attempt to be different or create a new argument for argument’s sake.

      1. Yes the team misses Mstthews… But missing him is not the same as irreplaceable! To argue otherwise is arguing for the sake of arguing.

        1. I’m starting to think we both think the same thing but are saying it in different ways. I’ll just stick with that just because the team wins without Matthews does not make it an absolute truth that he is irreplaceable.

          1. Packers are better w/ Matthews, but IMO they would win at a similar rate as they would w/o him. That certainly is a speculation, but it would be on your part to say they wouldn’t. That equals replaceable to me.

        2. Let’s see…since CMIII has played in the NFL, he has been All-Pro each and every year. He has been and is the best player on our defense. Of course we are going to miss him, however, injuries happen, and we need Mike Neal or whomever else fills-in for CMIII to step-up and play to the best of their ability. I still recall during our last Super Bowl, when we lost two key players before halftime (Woodson was one:clavicle) and it appeared we had lost the momentum…Other players came in and played solid and we won. I am hoping we play well without CMIII, Brad Jones, and whomever else is injured. Welcome to the NFL. Injuries are commonplace. Get used to it.

      2. Jason, I don’t stir the pot, I speak my mind.

        Clearly, there is going to be an impact from the loss of Matthews in terms of pass rush. However, I truly believe most fans underestimate the ability of the Packers D to create pressure sans Matthews. Yes, Clay’s presence puts them over the top and turns pressures, hits, and hurries into sacks and the occasional fumble, and that’s huge. But i truly don’t believe the Packers are hamstrung without him in terms of pass rush (pardon the phrasing.)

        I do feel that the loss of Matthews, Jones, and Francois does come close to crippling our LB’s ability to play the run at anywhere near the level they have thus far this season. Our LB corps has been assembled with player after player who shows athletic pass rush potential, but are incomplete defenders. We only have so many tough run defenders in our LB corps. Matthews is arguably the best run defender of the bunch; Jones has proven to be a fast and aggressive track-down-the-ball-carrier defender, and Francois is just pure aggression. I feel like Perry is a good run defender, I’m not sold on Neal as a run defender out of the OLB position yet, and then we have the glut of young, talented but unproven pass rush guys like Palmer and Lattimore.

        We’ll see what happens. Sorry that I have views that don’t jive with the mainstream. It’s just how I see it.

    2. As I said above, 53’s main job on the opposite side of Matthews was to set the edge and contain. He will do the same in Matthews place. It is something he is good at. Not great like 52, but good. We realy need Jolly to continue to improve so that when they do turn the runs inside, we don’t have to depend on Lattimore so much.

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  10. Interesting that to this point, when discussing replacing CMIII’s pressure, we haven’t mentioned Datone Jones. Is this the week he gets it together and shows some promise? I hope so. The Pack can win without Clay, but there is no one on the team that can replicate his relentless pressure. Maybe a combination of Perry,Neal,Jones can do the trick and lead us to victory! GoPack!

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