8

November

Erik Walden’s On-Field Theatrics: Exit Stage Left?

There were a lot of things that can be taken away from the Packers more-difficult-than-it-should-have–been 45-38 win over the San Diego Chargers, in particular on the defensive side of the ball, but there is one player I want to focus on and what his role should be in the Packers defense going forward.

Erik Walden, come on down.

After watching his breakout game against the Chicago Bears in the 2010 regular season finale, my initial reaction was that we were witnessing another Ted Thompson-discovered diamond in the rough and that he would be a key player in the defense going forward, in particular with Nick Barnett gone.

Turns out Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers agreed with me.  When the season started, Walden was named the starter at right outside linebacker, opposite of Clay Matthews.  With Barnett having left for Buffalo, Walden beat out Frank Zombo in large part due to an injury Zombo suffered during training camp.

With Zombo finally becoming healthy, the time has come to evaluate Walden’s progress after half of the Packers’ schedule.

The verdict? Zombo better start sharpening his Zorro sword.

Walden is a great story.  Thompson signed him off the street basically and he was a big contributor in a game that the Packers had to have in order for them to make their magical run to Super Bowl XLV.

Since the however, Walden’s been a letdown and has become further proof of the old adage: “One big game does not an NFL superstar make.”

For evidence, all I would need to present was Walden’s game tape of his performance against San Diego.  It seemed at times he would throw fundamentals right out the window.  I saw on at least two occasions Walden trying to leap on or belly flop on top of Philip Rivers, which was followed by Rivers easily dodging that and making a key completion.  Those completions were a big part of why this game was in doubt until the final minute.

Capers and McCarthy are both big fundamental coaches and looking at this tape should (and likely would) throw them into a fit.  Walden needs to cut out the theatrics and get back to the basics of tackling: wrap up your man and bring him to the ground.

So why should a getting-healthy and possibly rusty Zombo get the nod over a healthy Walden going forward? I submit to you the case of the Packers vs. Mike Tolbert.

The Packers linebackers got absolutely shredded in the screen game against the Chargers offense.  Tolbert, who is not even the Chargers’ primary running back, broke tackle after tackle and make the Packers linebackers look silly.  Walden is obviously not the only here who deserves blame, but he has been struggling week in and week out.

With the Packers facing some running backs that strong in the passing game during their second half stretch like Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Darren McFadden he cannot continue to be a liability for Capers.

On the contrary, Zombo is very fundamentally strong when he is healthy.  He plays the screen pass well, and is arguably faster and more athletic than Walden.  At a time when the Packers are struggling to develop any semblance of a pass rush, Zombo’s insertion into the starting lineup could be a spark that finally gets the Packers defense back on track.

Yes I also am aware of Vic So’oto.  His time very well may be coming but he may be better suited as a backup to Matthews on the left side instead of on the right.  For the time being, the right outside linebacker job should come down to either Zombo or Walden.

The bottom line is something needs to be done with the Packers defense.  Something obviously isn’t right with Capers’ unit and even those looking through the biggest green and gold glasses can see that.  If Zombo really is ready, replacing Walden could be the wakeup call the defense needs.

Once they see starting jobs are in jeopardy that may be enough to light a fire that helps them recapture the form that catapulted the team to its fourth Lombardi Trophy.

If not,  this hot start for Rodgers and the offense may go to waste if the Packers can’t stop anyone in the playoffs where anything can happen regardless of a team’s record.

Just ask the 2007 Patriots or the 2010 Saints who lost to a 7-9 playoff team.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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30 Responses to “Erik Walden’s On-Field Theatrics: Exit Stage Left?”

  1. CSS says:

    Pro football focus gave Walden the game ball for his overall play this week against the Chargers. Interesting divergence of opinions.

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  2. Ron LC says:

    “When Zombo is healthy,” key statement. Right now he’s pushing Neal for the “Where’s Wallso Award.”

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    • Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

      Below the belt shot Ron,Zombo is getting Purple Hearts while Neal simply shown no heart or anything to support the hype and hope.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

      • BTF says:

        This isn’t just aimed at this comment but I’ve never really understood hating on a guy who gets injured. Seems unlikely from what we know that Neal wants to be injured is not trying like hell to get back on the pitch or has contributed in some way to his own downfall. So why not cut the kid some slack rather than trying to label him an injury bust a whole year and a half into his career…

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      • Ron LC says:

        Just a little levity. Just emphasizing that there are roster spots being taken up by non-productive bodies. They need to get some D help on the field not on the inactive list.

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      • Oppy says:

        Uh, I saw Mike Neal command enough respect from an NFL team that at one point they had THREE GUYS trying to keep him out of the backfield.

        True story.

        Shown no heart or anything? You’re way off base.

        We’ve only had a brief glimpse of his potential, but in that brief glimpse their was plenty of drive and fire.

        I agree, we can’t say he’s the answer, but you are making him out to be a highly touted pick whose never shown anything to support the hype.

        He was a head-scratcher pick who was basically untouted. The expectations and excitement that surrounds Neal was generated purely by what fans saw on the field.

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        • Kris Burke Kris Burke says:

          Neal is a reverse James Starks. The fans loved Neo and he has panned out so far. Neal? Not so much.

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        • Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

          Oppy,I simply said Zombo was getting injured in real play time whereas Neal got hurt with a practice dummy in defense of Zombo as to Rons point of view.
          As for your story about Neal and what he has/can/will do is just story until he does it in game play.Give me a break.
          I’m not hating on the guy,just waiting for him to play period.
          I was all in on Starks and took a lot of crap about him when he was out wth the hammy from nearly every poster in this site including I’m sure you OPPY.So reread what I wrote and you will see I simply said Zombo is battle injured and Neal isn’t…there is a difference and I was answering RonLC.
          For another retort,how many here thought Starks to be a bust before he even played a game.Geez

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          • Oppy says:

            Your exact quote, which is just a few messages above this one, was (in its entirety):

            “Below the belt shot Ron,Zombo is getting Purple Hearts while Neal simply shown no heart or anything to support the hype and hope.”

            I’m sorry if I misunderstood what you were getting at. No heart or anything to support the hype and hope sounds like you are blatantly knocking the player’s ability.

            “As for your story about Neal and what he has/can/will do is just story until he does it in game play.Give me a break.”

            It’s not just a story, he has, and therefore can, done exactly what I said he did- which is play at a high enough level- in a real live NFL game- that at one point he was being tripled teamed. It was vs. the Washington Redskins last season if I’m not mistaken.

            Finally, as far as Starks go, TARYN, I was excited to see what Starks could do as anyone. I was never “Down” on Starks. That said, I was not one of the people running around screaming that we need to make Starks the starting running back before he had ever played a single down in an NFL game (literally), especially since he hadn’t played ANY live football since almost 2008 at the time.

            Sorry to have upset you so much that you are lashing out at me about an entirely different subject.. It was not my intent for you to take my post about our differing opinions as some sort of personal attack.

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    • Woody Miller says:

      Also known as the JUSTIN HARRELL award, the MIA!

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  3. Russ says:

    Im going to have to disagree with you on this one Kris. Being at the game, I thought Walden brought a lot of energy and pressure from right side. I’ve only watched the game once at home. I feel that Walden is doing very well for a first full year starter. Yes he has room for improvement, but as for Zombo being more athletic, again I will have disagree with you. Once Walden improves his technic and his fundamentals, which will come with playing time. He will be a force to be reckoned with.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      You took the words out of my mouth. I think Walden has played well most of the season and I prefer him over Zombo, based on what I’ve seen of both so far. Have to disagree with your take here, Kris…

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  4. Kris Burke Kris Burke says:

    Disclaimer: I wrote this before news broke of Zombo missing another game.

    That said, I’m thinking a little more outside the box as far as generating more of a pass rush. The Zombo injury basically makes this post moot almost. I guess I shouldn’t have expected more.

    Still, Walden had chances against the Chargers and three times I saw him leap in mid air to tackle Rivers instead of wrapping him up. Others saw this too from what I read via Twitter, so I’m not TOTALLY crazy.

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  5. Chileman says:

    Other things I saw during the game…
    While Bishop made a lot of nice tackles and was always around the ball he couldn’t cover Gates.
    I didn’t hear Rajis and Green’s names called all night.
    Wynn and Wilson are non factors

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  6. John says:

    I disagree look at the stats! Walden played well Sunday. The last time I checked the packers are undefeated

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  7. Russ says:

    Just finished watching the game again. ….We miss Jenkins!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • CSS says:

      Well, the Eagles have missed Jenkins during prime-time games this year where he hasn’t shown up against average offensive lines. Oh, and they don’t miss him on running downs because they pull him. He’s awful against the run. Almost all of his sacks came against three of the poorer pass-blocking offensive lines in Rams, Giants and Falcons.

      Is Jenkins a better player then Wynn or Wilson? Absolutely? Is he some magic elixir? No, his play if falling.

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  8. Chad Lundberg says:

    Why am I the only one who thinks Mike Neal can potentially turn the defense around?

    There’s a saying that “one player does not make a team”, HOWEVER, I believe it is entirely possibly for there to be a player that COMPLETES a team.

    As in, we have every other spot filled, but there’s one pivotal spot that’s missing. I for one am confident that Neal is, or could very potentially be that person.

    Forget the kind of athlete he is, and forget about what we’ve seen so far on film about him.

    Here’s the fact. The Green Bay organization is VERY high on him. So high on him that they were willing to let a proven veteran leave. When Green Bay is confident in a player, PAY ATTENTION.

    Mason Crosby is probably the latest example. The guy had seriously been under-performing for so many years, yet for some reason McCarthy insisted that he had all the confidence in the world in Mason, and Thompson even made him one of the highest paid kickers in the NFL.

    Crosby is a perfect 15 for 15 on field goals this year, including a handful of 50 yard bombs that could have been kicked from 60 yards out.

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  9. Dan says:

    Let’s sign Haynesworth LOL….hey, maybe it can’t hurt? When’s the last time you have heard Wynn or Wilsons name mentioned during a game? Picket and Green are fat slow “run stuffers” and Raji is over worked and doubled team because the rest of the D lineman suck. Let’s add Albert and Mike Neal to the rotation. Haynesworth can be picked off wavers for $750k. Then again he got waived by one of the best locker rooms in the NFL and from the worst D…..oh well, this just shows how desperate I am to see the D improve some how..LOL

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    • tmaxx says:

      aaronqb…I Hope The Pack is never that desparate. Fat Albert is big enought to bring the moral of a whole locker room down. The guy’s dead weight.

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    • tmaxx says:

      Ooops…Morale

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  10. aaronqb says:

    Bob McGinn called the game the best of Walden’s career in GB – even better than last year’s week 17 game against CHI where he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Week award.

    I’m going with McGinn on this one.

    I agree with several of you who have not given up on Mike Neal. I am cautiously optimistic he will be a strong contributor down the stretch.

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  11. Shavager says:

    Personally I would’ve rather TThompson had signed exBear Tommie Harris for D-line if Neal wasn’t ready by now but Chargers got him. Maybe exFalcon Gerald Warren can be picked up. Hope Neal makes it back but D-line is worn out, Raji and Pickett on the field too much to make contributions in 4th qtr when game’s on the line. This doesn’t help secondary coverage when QB’s can take their time, pick which receiver breaks in open. CMatthews can’t get sacks when he’s double teamed especially when D-line can’t pressure. Hopefully Capers gets improvement or some help, time for Neal to be in or out.

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  12. Stu says:

    Mike Neal has huge tonsils! Watch out!

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  13. Savage57 says:

    Since no one on here understands the intracacies of pro football talent evaluation and availability anywhere near as well as the GBP personnel people do, we have to have a little faith in the idea that if this year’s Ho Green was sitting around someplace, he’d be on a plane to Green Bay by now. I get the whole draft and develop thing, but I am willing to bet that TT and his staff wouldn’t sit back with crossed fingers if there was legitimate help available on the street.

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  14. Wagszilla says:

    The Pack is paper thin at OLB – no way Walden walks.

    Speaking of Linebackers – I’m getting real tired of Desmond Bishop’s flopping. I’ve seen him do it almost every game. Really irritating. Not very Packer-y.

    But he’s playing lights out so it has gone unnoticed.

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  15. the song should be Dear God. but its still? sad to see him go :(

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