Will the Packers’ defensive “toughness” be questioned again in 2015?

Remember these types of columns and blog posts following recent Packers playoff exits? If you’re too lazy to click the link, the column calls the Packers “too soft to join the NFL’s elite.”

Defensive issues, particularly in the area of “toughness,” have plagued the Packers since winning the Super Bowl four seasons ago. With the exception of some early-season run defense issues and the last 5 minutes of the NFC title game, the Packers defense took care of most of those issues in 2014.

But after the departure of Tramon Williams, who turned into a gritty and willing tackler after shying away from contact in previous seasons, and spending early-round draft picks on small defensive backs instead of bruising trench players or a hard-hitting middle linebacker, could the Packers’ “toughness” again be questioned in 2015?

“Toughness” is hard to define. Typically, if a team is winning games, their defensive “toughness” isn’t questioned. That’s not always the case with the Packers since their defensive meltdowns in the playoffs have been bad. Really bad. The Packers have been one of the NFL’s best teams, but their “toughness” is still questioned.

Playing defense today is mostly about match-ups and forcing turnovers. Green Bay’s defense has plenty of versatile athletes and playmakers, so they should be well-equipped to excel in both categories. But there are still plenty of good NFL teams that thrive on a strong running game and pushing around smaller, softer teams.

If Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks steamroll the Packers in week 2, the soft label will make an ugly return to the Packers’ defense. It’ll get worse if San Francisco once again plows through Green Bay two weeks later.

We’ll find out early on just how “tough” the 2015 Packers’ defense will be. If they’re not tough enough, look for changes to be made like they were last season.

Moving Clay Matthews inside, scrapping the “quad” package, playing Morgan Burnett up in the box. Those types of moves improve the Packers on D last season and made them tougher. It’d be nice to not have to do much shifting to get to the right level of “toughness” in 2015.

“Toughness” might be hard to define, but you sure know when your team lacks it.


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 .


43 thoughts on “Will the Packers’ defensive “toughness” be questioned again in 2015?

  1. I don’t think there is any way to know at this point. Who is going to start at CB in Tramon’s place? Will that person be good enough to allow Burnett to be up near the line of scrimmage? Will Raji start at NT, and if so, will he be “tougher” than Guion? Will Guion see time at DE, or will it be a rotation of Jones and Boyd? Will Jones be healthy and beat out Boyd? Who will play ILB next to Barrington? I suppose there is an outside chance of someone beating out Barrington. Will Perry finally be healthy and claim a more active role? Will GB be able to limit Peppers’ snaps so he is fresh and dynamic? Will one of the rookies or 2nd year guys make a jump and force themselves into a more active role? Will Capers have to change his schemes or his preferences? And that’s just the defense. I don’t foresee too many changes on offense, but it would be nice to have a receiver who can get off of a jam and even take advantage of it.

    1. I agree with you that we can’t say any at this point. But, to make it little more spicy, if B. J. will not play om highest level, maybe Mike Pennel will step up? Who knows what is hidden in that 6th round pick, Ringo? Maybe Khyri Thornton will pleasantly surprise or Mike Neal will start to play on requested level as DE, as well as Datone Jones… Who knows… Further to go, maybe Goodson will show enough and maybe some rookies will be able to shine and become starters, or Hayward will fill the shoes of Tramon… There is to much questions in May…

  2. Aaaaargh…. Last 5 minutes…. No, there was not last 5 minutes! It was last 8:20 minutes… OT is counting too… And that was not meltdown… That was going home before the end of the game…

    1. “And that was not meltdown… That was going home before the end of the game…”

      Well put.

  3. First off, I love that picture of Nitschke at the beginning of the article. Nice job Adam, finding and using that picture. As for toughness in 2015, the Packer’s defense is going to need to improve their tackling, again. Yes, it was better in 2014 but they still have a way to go in terms of becoming a better tackling team. Also, they need to show that the DL can hold the point of attack against the running game, this has been lacking for years. And primarily, the Packers ILB play must improve. It is this lack of solid ILB play which presents the defense as weak. Too many runners bursting through the middle of the Packers defense enhances the perception of being a weak defense. I agree that this needs to change early in the season, especially at home against Seattle. Another issue, is making stops when they need to made, especially towards the end of the first half and in the 4th quarter when the games are close. If not the questions will continue to fly about the toughness of the Packers defense. As I have said before, put the ILBs in a room and make them watch films of Nitschke until they get it. There will never be a better example of toughness than #66. Thanks, Since ’61

    1. I have been waiting for his replacement if only in attitude for far to long. The is what we miss now more than ever He was my favorite Packer along with Taylor. Tough football players.

      1. Ray was one of my favorites also, along with Hornung. Then Paul got hurt so it became Nitschke and Starr for me. I doubt that we will be lucky enough to see another player like Nitschke, he was a once in a lifetime player. Thanks, Since ’61

        1. Agree. But it’s been too long since we had a big guy, star “football” player in the middle. I miss that part of the Packers especially since I grew up watching Nitschke so that is my view of what is the Packers image. Could still happen, Lombardi took this no name, and in very little time turned him into one of the greats. Here’s looking at you Udfas!

  4. On paper, DL and LB look about the same and secondary looks weaker.

    So, unless two or three guys emerge as quality starters on D, I would expect more of the same in 2015. Maybe guys like Barrington, Thornton, Perry, Neal, Raji and Jones will blossom this year but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. Timely article and great topic Adam. As far as I am concerned, toughness starts in the trenches. I don’t know that we have addressed that since our Super Bowl Year. Our weak ILB play is exposed because our D-line gets run through and/or we can’t collapse the pocket. We will see if that has changed.

    The way that TT has been drafting tells me that he is recognizing the “pass-happy” nature of the league. Like or dislike, we are stocking up on lighter, faster defenders. If guys like Marshawn Lynch or AP come through the line, heaven help us.

    In my mind the Packers are still a finesse team. The passive rush on 3rd and 19 (or whatever) doesn’t spell tough in my mind. This is okay if our offense can carry the load in the big games against good teams like Seattle. I am waiting for both of these questions to answered.

  6. FWIW, one of the best sports writers in the country (Bob McGinn) said just this past week that GB thoroughly shed the “not tough” label in the latter half of last year, and that the departures of Hawk and Jones will only help in the “tough” effort.

    That said, I think you raise valid points. If either Raji AND Jones or Bradford AND Thomas don’t step up (and we don’t get injuries at those spots), then we’ll have 2 weak links in the front 7 again and we’ll be called a “finesse” team.

      1. Exactly my friend, especially in the Red Zone. There were way to many times the Packers settled for a FG after having 1st and goal. Crosby kicked 6 FG’s against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, 4 against New England. We won against the Pats but obviously had the Packers scored even one TD instead of a FG against Seattle we’re playing in SB 49.

        1. It is my contention that part of the attraction TT had for Ripkowski is watching Rip move a defender out of the hole in goal line situations, not just gain a stalemate or seal off a guy.

          1. Agreed, John Kuhn has been a important part of the Packers however his role has shrunk over the last few years. If Riiiiiiiiiiiip is what and who I think he can be, Lacy will have a few more 1 & 2 yard TD runs this year.

  7. Toughness isn’t defined by how well or hard you tackle, but that is a manifestation of it. It’s defined by how well you defend and hold sacred what you unfailingly believe to be yours and take any attempt by anyone to relieve you of that with great umbrage and hostility.

    Once the Packers embrace and live that defensive mindset, every play until the gun sounds, they’ll be able to shed the ‘soft’ label.

    The guy in the picture viewed the world that way.

    1. This is probably the best way to say it. Being “tough” isn’t about being bigger or stronger. There’s plenty of little guys out there who are tough as nails. It’s about will and your desire to impose yours over others, and doing so in a physical and aggressive way. Sometimes it only takes one guy to make that change for a unit. That kind of play can be infectious.

      1. ” That kind of play can be infectious.”

        Somebody had best collect those hidden immunization doses then.

  8. Whether our defense looks good early,mid season or late which is prevalent more on who we play,the one thing that remains embedded…this defense looks and plays the role of laughing stock when crunch time comes about.

    Great against mediocrity,mediocre against good and heartbreaking against equal or better offensive talent/scheme.

    Sure our offense will likely get us a playoff spot but the other playoff teams lick their chops as they await to see who gets to play the folding chair,whether via the weight placed upon it or simply pulled out from under, that is the Packer defense.

    Can things change…absolutely…but we are once again hoping that those who have failed us the last 2-4 years will suddenly play to their respective ‘potential’. 🙂

    1. Disagree. The situation you just described applies to all the teams in the NFL at one time or another throughout the course of a season, and ultimately to all but 1 team by the end of the year. If just one play goes differently against the Seabags and GB is in the super bowl, against a team they already beat.

      Your standards to too high. The D is middle of the road to above average, and with the O being supercharged, that’s enough to put us in the conversation for the Lombardi every year. Saying “If we don’t win it all we are a failure” is stupid in a single game elimination tourney. Too many variables. GB was the best team in the NFL last year, and they didn’t win it. NE was the best team in the NFL several times between 05 and 14, and they never won it. The best team doesn’t always win.

      Barring injury, I think it’s a fair thing to say that the D has more talent this year than last. House and Tramon are losses, but let’s face it, Tramon was getting older and we had to see what Heyward has. House was an exciting “maybe” and got seriously overpaid by JAX. The only player that might regress is Peppers.

      1. “Too many variables. GB was the best team in the NFL last year, and they didn’t win it.”

        Spot on. Any playoff format leaves teams susceptible to match-ups and circumstances (namely injuries and hot opponents). Players talk about teams being 0-0 at the start of the playoffs, and it’s too true for words.

        We call the SB champion the NFL champ, but only because we’ve agreed to do so. That team is really just the playoff/tourney champion. Sometimes it’s the team with the best track record over the course of the season that wins out, sometimes not. This is part of my disappointment with the NCAA Tourney.

        “The only player that might regress is Peppers.”

        My hope is that they can find enough help to cut his snaps by 15% or so this season. That, and the fact that he plays more in space and isn’t taking the continual beatings of OL, could do wonders for him. If they can keep him fresh, he should hold up.

      2. “If just one play goes differently against the Seabags and GB is in the super bowl, against a team they already beat.”

        This is a true deniers way out of not accepting all the bad play that allowed it to come down to one play and make Bostick the goat.

        “Too many variables.”

        And yet our opponent has constantly hurdled their variables while we constantly trip over ours.
        The best team picked to win is described by the stat sheet..the better team wins regardless of the stat sheet and who survived the punches is standing at the end…we didn’t and we weren’t…period.

        1. Different opponents. NYG in 11. SF in 12 and 13. SEA in 14. The past two years it just as easily could have been GB in the big game and not the other guys.

          Again, the margin for victory is so small and has too many variables. I want to win the SB too – but the best you can do is be a major player every year and hope the chips fall your direction.

        2. When Elite teams go head to head it usually comes down to one play that is going to decide the contest…that one play was the onside kick. If Bostick carries out his assignment the Packers win…he’s the goat and rightfully so.

      3. Also,how is what Croatpackfan said and voted up by you any different than what I said and hence responded to you a moment ago?

        1. The entire team visibly relaxed the last 8 mins of that game. That doesn’t make Seattle better, nor does it make it a “choke.” It makes it letdown on GBs part – exactly what Croat described and decidedly not what you described.

          1. One of the biggest assets anyone who does sports,especially the professionals and those that claim the Title,is the ability to come back whether from taking the opponents best shots or after willingly going to safe mode.
            The Packers were unable to do so and whether it’s called,choke,letdown,quit or other variables….this team is like a boxer who has assumed winning enough rds via points to win the decision,suddenly gets pounded to the canvas and then wonders what happened and wants to still claim to be the best as his opponent straps the belt around his waist.

            Just because you’re ahead on points at one time doesn’t make you the Champ or the better participant especially when your not even in the final for the Title.

            Seattle took our best shots,we rested on assumption of points scored and got pummeled to the mat and wondered what happened as the stretcher carried us off to nowhere… again.

            We have had opportunity to chant ‘repeat,repeat’ for possible SB victories,we now must learn to alter what is meant by ‘repeat’ to this team or more directly the defense as repeating is now our undoing.

      4. Personally I think the Packers will be better off without Williams. I love Tramon, we don’t win SB 45 without Tramon, but he gave up what 14 TD’s last year? The QB rating when throwing against him was pretty high, better than most QB’s in the NFL for a season. Hayward, Rollins, and Randell will be a upgrade over Williams and House.

  9. It sure will, all year long as it should be. They have a bad taste to get rid of no doubt and with that a lot to prove. Defense is all that separates team from greatness. It has to be better and must always play with fire especially this year to show me something. Does not have to be great but must have some teeth to it, and I hope, a serious attitude team wide. One would think a surly approach given the huge chip they now should have. How much more motivation could they possibly need.

    1. I think they’ll have it. It’ll take health again (remember we were VERY healthy last year), and 2 of 4 questions stepping up (Raji, Jones, Bradford, Thomas)

      1. Yes good point that I do not want to think of. Like to believe we are due in all areas this year. Perry and Jones better. Bradford,Thomas,Elliot,Hubbard make the leap along with a few of the new guys. Neal healthy, Raji and Guion as well…… Asking a lot but why not.

  10. When I think of “tough”, I think of the 70’s Pittsburgh Steelers defenses and the 85 Bears defense. What did they have in common? They had a lot of assholes on defense. Guys that didn’t take shit but they dished it out. They intimidated!! Lambert, Mean Joe Green, Ernie Holmes, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell for the Steelers and guys like Hampton, McMichael, Dent, Singletary, Marshall for the Bears.

    You didn’t want to play these guys as you knew it was going to be bloody. The question is do we have guys like this on the Packers? I would have to say no. The closest thing to them was Seattle but two years ago when they won the super bowl not now.

    The Packers have a few guys like Daniels, Barrington and possibly Clinton Dix who love to play physical but we need more. Maybe other guys like Pennel, Bradford, Randall, Thornton, Ryan can step it up and get some nastiness to them. If only Forrest Gregg was our defensive coach.

    1. If the Giants Niners and Seahawks losses are not enough to have them breathing fire, coaches included this year, and they do not show that on the field. I am going to be pissed. I expect no more Mr nice guy from MM and Rodgers, the whole bunch but especially the D line and LBs.

  11. In the past, “tough” meant Bednarik, Nitschke, Butkus, the Steel Curtain or even the Purple People Eaters making offenses afraid of getting seriously injured. Now, “tough” only means a D that efficiently, consistently limits the pass and the run. The Seahawks D has been popular partly because they’ve brought back some I-can’t-wait-to-punish-you attitude that the NFL has been moving away from. The Packers D has been effective enough, but I don’t think it has a reputation that makes opposing offensives shiver in their shoes. Then again, how many D’s in today’s NFL have that effect? It’s hard to be a nasty D when the NFL punishes you for it. And how necessary is it to be a scary defense if you’ve got a scary-good offense in a league that favors offense? While I’m at it: the dove bar is neither a dove nor a bar. Discuss.

    1. I know Eric. It’s a different time in the NFL. We’ll never see defenses like those of the past. I can dream though.

  12. I have faith. I don’t think this year’s team will go home before the game ends. I think the offense will be more aggressive. I hope. If they score 52 points per game they have a good chance of winning. The best way to help young corners is to put the quarterback on the ground or at least make him take his eyes off down field receivers. I really hate to say this, but I believe Clay Matthews is better in the middle than on the outside. When he rushes from the outside he goes too deep and is taken out of the play. When he works the middle, his push disrupts everything while keeping the quarterback in front of him. The Packers have so many outside line backers they are going to have to move someone inside. Barring injuries, they will go undefeated this year. The Dolphins can put away the champagne. Like I said earlier, I have faith.

    1. Nothing wrong with saying that Rolland. I think the majority would agree with you that Matthews is better and more effective in the middle. The numbers were overwhelming. Whether he wants to play there or not? tough shit. You are getting paid one of the highest contracts in the NFL. You go where they tell you. Jayrone Elliott will be the guy at OLB I predict.

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