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.
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.——————
Kris Burke is a freelance sports writer currently residing in Wisconsin. His work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke