Ever since the 2010 Super Bowl run, the Green Bay Packers’ defense has been very suspect. Whether it was a rash of injuries, lack of depth, too complex of a scheme, or a sieve secondary, the defense didn’t strike fear into many.
However, the 2014 season will be different. In fact, I am making the bold prediction that the Packers will lead the NFL in quarterback sacks. Here are seven reasons why:
1. The re-emergence of Julius Peppers. It wasn’t too long ago when Peppers was the premiere pass rusher in all of football. Over his 12-year career, he’s averaged 9.9 sacks per season, and that was largely done with no pass rushing help opposite of him. While he’s getting a little long in the tooth, he still has freakish ability and is turning heads at training camp. Pairing him up with Clay Matthews should give opposing quarterbacks nightmares. Also, Peppers is motivated to show everyone he still has a lot in the tank.
2. Clay Matthews finally gets some help. While he has been plagued with injuries the last few seasons, no one can argue that Matthews is one of the most feared pass rushers when healthy. Over his career, he’s averaged 10.0 sacks per season, and like Peppers, those numbers have come without much help occupying other blockers. If Matthews can stay healthy and put his broken thumb behind him, the presence of even an aging Peppers should bolster his numbers. Dom Capers has already tipped his hand a little about moving him around the formation to find the best match ups to exploit. If he’s able to slash through gaps, opposing quarterbacks could be in for some very long days indeed.
3. Mike Daniels breaks out. He is a beast waiting to happen. Last season, he had 6.5 sacks and started making a name for himself. In the off season, he said he wanted to bring nastiness to the defense, and said he would punch someone in the mouth to get it. That type of piss and vinegar and angry play has been missing from the defense for years. Hopefully, it’s infectious throughout the defense and we see a new nastiness this season.
4. The new starting safety combination solidifies the back end. Whoever starts at safety this year will undoubtedly be an upgrade from the unmitigated disaster it was last season. Safeties are one of the most important positions in Dom Capers’ defense, and one could argue that their combination with an effective pass rushing defensive end are what make the defense run. Look no further back in time to 2010 when the Packers had Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins. This training camp, Micah Hyde, Sean Richardson, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have shown a lot. If they can improve upon last year and cover receivers longer, the pass rush can get home more often.
5. Nick Perry and Mike Neal contribute in specialized roles. These men have not been healthy for a full season, but they do have the potential to be something more than disappointments. If Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers are true to their word about implementing the elephant end, these two are the most likely candidates to join Peppers at this unique position because of their ability to play in either two-point or three-point stances. They aren’t being asked to cover receivers very often, but instead are asked to contain the run and go chase the quarterback. I don’t think Perry and Neal strike fear into many receivers, but if they’re healthy and on the field with Peppers, Matthews, Daniels, and the new-look safeties, they should be able to pick up some key sacks and fulfill the promise they haven’t yet up to this point.
6. Dom Capers simplifies his scheme. We’ve heard numerous times this off season that McCarthy wants to get back to fundamentals on defense. Translation: less scheme, more playing. Rather than confusing players with some genius scheme, Capers and McCarthy will let the players do what they do best and get after the offense. By letting pass rushers chase the quarterback and safeties covering receivers in less complex assignments, everyone is more sure of their assignment, more instinctive, more confident, and can play more naturally.
7. The Packers offense will score a lot. With Aaron Rodgers and company doing what they do, which is finding the end zone, the Packers will often be sitting on a lead. That means the opposition will be playing catch up and will probably become pass happy. Once the offense becomes one-dimensional, the Packers’ pass rushers can tee off and go chase down quarterbacks and have a feast.
No one doubts the Packers offense can score points. But, the defense must deliver if the Packers hope to make a deep playoff run. I think this year could have the best Packers defense we’ve seen since the 2009 and 2010 seasons. If everything goes to plan, the pass rush could be even better.
We must also remember that sacks don’t tell the whole story. Simply forcing the quarterback out of his rhythm or batting down the ball is good defense and the hallmark of a good pass rush. On paper, the 2014 Packers pass rush is scary good. Let’s hope perception is reality.
Also, if Datone Jones can finally contribute something, which he has yet to do much of this training camp, that’s just gravy and an embarrassment of riches.——————