13

August

In defense of Erik Walden: Packers Third Best OLB

Packers Linebacker Erik Walden

Packers Linebacker Erik Walden

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been living alone on Walden Island. While everyone around me seems to give zero respect to Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden (is he the new Jarret Bush?) , I believe he has a talent just waiting to be brought to the forefront. It’s something I noticed all last year, and with a little luck, the results would have made everyone notice. Unfortunately, a few split seconds here and there can make all the difference in the world.

Erik Walden can flat out rush the passer. When Walden is turned loose to pursue the red meat known as NFL quarterbacks, he performs like a hungry lion. On many occasions last season, I observed Walden coming fast and hard and just being a split second short of a sack. He finished with 3 sacks on the year, but if I told you it could have easily been 10, would you feel differently about Erik Walden?

Now I’m not here to declare Walden as a fantastic NFL player – anyone who understands defensive play could see how mightily he struggled last season in the run game. He never seemed to quite know what to do – when to be the “force” player, when to hold the outside edge, when to hold an inside position. The result was not pretty, earning him a ranking as the worst 3-4 outside linebacker against the run from ProFootballFocus.

But those are not physical errors, they are errors in judgement, decision making and possibly in knowing his assignments. These are errors that can be remedied with more practice. Perhaps Walden is already on the way, as this clip from the Packers family night scrimmage might indicate:

 

 

This might come as a shock to you, but Walden’s production in the running game was actually very good, as far as some numbers go. Walden finished the year with 41 tackles, good for fifth overall in the NFL among  3-4 outside linebackers and he was tied for 1st in the league in assisted tackle with 11.  He finished 19th in stops (more on that later).

Digest that for a second.

Now some of you might say, “I bet there are a lot of guys who didn’t have as many snaps as Walden,” and you would be right; so lets make an adjustment. We’ll only look at the 12 OLBs with 885 snaps or more (Walden had 918 and there were 8 players with more snaps than he).  The other 11 players were Ryan Kerrigan, Tamba Hali, Clay Matthews, Anthony Spencer, Clark Haggans, Brian Orakpo, DeMarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, Ahmad Brooks, Conner Barwin, Calvin Pace. That’s pretty good company to be in, isn’t it?

Here’s where Walden ranked among those 12 players:

Tackles: 5th  (41)
Assists:  1st (tied)  (11)
Stops: 12th  (19)

So the first two rankings didn’t change based on the number of snaps. The last number, however,  is the telling one. ProFootballFocus defines stops as “solo tackles made which constitute an offensive failure (including sacks).” Walden was not making many tackles behind the line of scrimmage, or solo stops, rather he was making a lot of tackles from behind in pursuit (because he hadn’t held his position correctly). What all of this proves is that Walden has the athletic ability to play the run much better than he did last year, if he can learn to play the position correctly from a tactical standpoint.

Taking a quick look at pass coverage, this is actually the time you most don’t want Walden in the game. Walden allowed completions of 78% of passes thrown into his coverage, which was the fourth worst among those 12 players. But pass coverage is not where I think Walden fits anyway. I think we will get better against the run, but for me, it’s undoubtedly all about the pass rush.

So now let’s examine some pass rushing statistics. Against those same dozen 3-4 OLBs with the most snaps last year, Walden stacks up as so:

Sacks: 12th  (3)
QB Hits:  4th  (14)
QB Hurries: 12th   (22)

As I said at the beginning of this piece, it seemed that I kept observing Walden getting so close, but being  just a split second late to record a sack.  The 14 QB hits would seem to corroborate that observation, and that’s a big reason for my defense of Walden.

Here’s a recent clip from the Packers’ preseason game against the Chargers that exemplifies the type of play I’m referring to:

 

 

This is what I remember seeing all last year. While it seems like most Packers fans think he’s horrible and should be cut, Walden could prove to be a useful piece for Chessmaster Dom Capers. He can be used in situations that plays to that strength while playing the role of super-sub, spelling Matthews or Perry as needed.

Oh and one more thing, just for fun. How did Walden compare straight up against Clay Matthews last year?

Snaps # of Pen QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu Tks Ass MT Stops
         
Erik Walden 932 3 3 14 22 43 11 4 19
Clay Matthews 1,028 4 6 22 43 41 7 5 36

He doesn’t compare that poorly does he? Fairly ironic he had more tackles than Matthews, the area where he was supposedly so awful. And yet, everyone wants to cut Erik Walden.

Are Frank Zombo, Brad Jones or Vic So ‘oto better than Walden? When they were given opportunities to play last year, none of them did anything to pry the starting job away from Erik Walden. While Walden’s days as a starter are over with Nick Perry in town, Walden can still be a valuable backup and situational player. Between he and Dezman Moses, you’re looking at the Packers’ two backup OLBs. All you Turks out there, put away your scimitars and leave Erik Walden alone.

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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36 Responses to “In defense of Erik Walden: Packers Third Best OLB”

  1. Brad says:

    All things considered, he does compare poorly to Matthews. The offense always knows where Matthews is and because of that he demands all the extra attention. Double teams, chips, plays run the opposite side of the field he lines up on. Split seconds in the NFL determine average football players from great ones. He’s one on one every single play. With that scenario he (and anybody that plays opposite Clay) needs more production for this defense to be successful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Brooklyn81 says:

    Agreed great post. All everyone ever wants to do is cut people and not seeing the big picture. Im glad TT is the GM and not some of these couch GM’s

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

    I don’t think he should be cut. But unless something has changed with him, the ‘lightbulb’ hasn’t yet gone on.

    Being assignment sure is the only way to ensure good run fits, or to pick up the right guy in coverage.

    Walden was just as responsible as Hawk for our D hemorrhaging yards last year.

    He can’t be trusted until he’s assignment sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Ed Schoenfeld says:

      I agree that Walden did not show the ‘lightbulb is on’ during 2011.

      Sometimes it takes a little shock to the player to get that buy in. We’ll see if his off-field problems and his ‘no interest’ free agency tour motivate the guy.

      On a different level, I think this highlights something Kevin Greene said about Perry, namely that the biggest adjustment is mental — the OLB needs to be aware of the whole field, including something as detailed as the WR split distance on the **opposite** side, to understand what his assignment on that particular play should be. (Greene’s words, not mine).

      At the same time the OLB needs to be a hard charging take no prisoners beast when the whistle blows.

      That’s got to be hard a transition to make, and will take time. It’s also why an OLB corps will not be built on one good draft choice (Matthews) and a couple of undrafted FAs. It takes time. We are now at the point where they might have 3 or 4 guys who are really suited for the OLB role — if the light goes on for Perry and Walden, and Zombo can stay healthy. You maybe get another guy out of Moses or So’oto. *If* all those things come true they might be pretty good this year. But it is still a big and unavoidable ‘if.’

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Sars says:

    You should send this to the 31 GMs who showed zero interest in signing Walden as a free agent during the offseason.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • GBFaninCA says:

      I think PFF had him ranked as one of the worst OLB’s in football last year. Would be nice if he could be that player who had 3 sacks against the bears in 2010, but Im not gonna hold my breath

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. Ron LC says:

    I’d like to somehow develop a statistic that shows how many failures an individual had in key defensive situations. It would be my guess Walden led the league in failures last year.

    I’m with Sars on the other GM’s not wanting him. That could be partially due to off-field activities and his overall lack of football intelligence. But, I think it was mostly due to his on field poor performance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  6. Dan "FireMMNow" Blakley FireMMNow says:

    also, a side note in your analysis. of the dozen players that played 885 or more snaps, you also have to realize that they are most likely not being run at very often. with the exception of kerrigan, brooks and maybe barwin, the other guys are their teams #1 OLBs. do you really think of the 885 snaps played teams tried to run at CM3 as much as they tried to run at Walden. Do you think teams tried to run at Hali as much as the other OLB on the Chiefs? I doubt it. Walden may have had similar tackle numbers to those guys, but I would guess a deeper analysis of actual opportunities to make tackles would be much higher for Walden.

    From a pass rush standpoint, Walden has shown flashes in the past. But for much of last season he looked like he had absolutely no chance. He is okay depth, but I definitely would not name him as an “up and coming” player. I think we see what Walden is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      Again, everyone is focusing in on my comparison to Matthews, which was thrown in just for fun. And yes, I suppose I could spend 10 hours doing more detailed statistical analysis, but the 3 hrs I spent was all I had.

      My overriding point here is that Walden can be a good pass rusher when he’s let loose to do just that. That, especially on this pass-rush-deprived Packers team, is a valuable commodity.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Ron LC says:

        True Al. The question I have is strictly can they afford a one demensional player who can be trapped leaving the defensive rightside vulnerable to the run and screen pass.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

          The answer is maybe, but I’m hoping that he has learned from his year of experience. And, you can be sure of what the coaches have been emphasizing to him all offseason and in camp. I think he has the ability to improve in those areas. Whether he does or doesn’t will determine if he has a spot on this team.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Dan "FireMMNow" Blakley FireMMNow says:

        i was not making an overall comparison to CM3. I also brought up Tamba Hali. My point is not all snaps are created equal. When teams see a weakness they exploit it. Of Waldens snaps played I would guess he was run at more than the vast majority of the 12 players in your analysis. Therefore he should have had more tackles than the rest of the other 12 if he was actually doing his job at a reasonable high level. I appreciate the time you put into the research, and it was a good, thought provoking article, I just think your analysis is flawed.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

        • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

          I don’t disagree with your point, but the section on run defense was more to show that I think he has the potential to improve and be adequate in that area. The real point of this whole article is the pass rush flashes I saw last season, and I think that’s what the Packers coaches see, which is why he is back on this team. It’s up to them and Walden to bring the best out of him and clean up the deficiencies. I believe the ability is there. Whether it ever happens or not, we’ll see. But I think he is deserving of that chance (off-field issues not withstanding) and would not be so fast to cut him, as the majority of Packers nation seems to want.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Pete Kliman says:

    Walden def. has ability it just faded at the end of the season.I’m glad he’s on the team. However, I believe the key to pressure will be if we can get some penetration from Worthy and Raji, it will open it up for everybody else.Raji really worked hard this off season and hopefully will be back to normal.TT brought in a truck load of D linemen and this should provide a good rotation to keep everyone fresh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Joe says:

    I still think he should be cut. He beat on his girlfriend. Any man that beats on women is not Packers people. Also whats the deal with the other criminals on the Pack, Hargrove and Benson. I would rather lose with good men then win with thugs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    • Oppy says:

      You mean guys like Ahman Green?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Oppy says:

      Though I’d also throw in that Hargrove is no more a criminal or thug than Brett Favre was. Drug addiction is drug addiction. I think sometimes the drug of choice and the complexion of the user drastically changes the way people view the character of the abuser, however.

      Yeah, I went there.

      I’m not saying this type of prejudice is inherent in your personal judgement, but it is clearly present in many fans’ thought process. To ignore it would be, well, ignorant and convenient.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Mojo says:

    I get the feeling your defense of Walden revolves mostly around his lack of intelligence. This doesn’t bode well, in that malady can’t be cured.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      There are plenty of football players who are as dumb as bricks. If they can learn what to do via rote repetition, it’s usually good enough.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    • Oppy says:

      There’s guys who pick rocks out of fields and can’t spell their own names or do simple math, but they can strip and rebuild a transmission with their eyes closed.

      Some guys have a feel for football, and have no problem breaking down the complicated progressions and reads in a scheme, even though they may not be what is traditionally considered “smart”.

      The fact he’s playing pro ball suggests he’s got enough of whatever he needs to contribute and take a roster spot. If he couldn’t figure out the playbooks, he wouldn’t have made it through multiple camps.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      • Mojo says:

        Not necessarily saying a player is too dumb he can’t through repetition learn the basics of a system. But in an unstructured environment and game speed, what one player diagnoses and engages another hesitates, makes poor snap-decision judgements or just does have the instincts of some of his better players.

        Also, there are guys who pick rocks out of fields and can’t spell their own names, who in addition, CANNOT build a transmission with their eyes wide-open.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • Oppy says:

          I can’t rebuild a transmission, or play NFL caliber defense.

          Now i’m depressed.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. BubbaOne says:

    Al, a little Monday morning shot…Walden is not the next Jarret Bush…at least you spelled his name correctly…Jarrett has two “t’s”.

    Now to the serious: You’re laying more groundwork asking why doesn’t Capers play a hybrid 3-4 D. I’m no expert but I believe Perry, Walden, and So’oto seem better suited to play the Elephant position. Worthy and Daniels seem better suited to play the tackle in that D which in essence is a 3-technique.

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  11. Oppy says:

    I think Packers fans have nailed down Walden as he is, and fairly: A guy who can rush the passer, but is god awful at holding the point and playing the run, and can’t cover very well, either.

    I’ve always made my stance clear: this team is full of OLBs who can do one or two things well enough, but can’t do all three- Rush, play the run, and cover.. That leads to defenses being able to all-out attack the weakness on the side of the field where whichever OLB is lined up.

    In Walden’s case, he’s really only a threat to rush the passer. That means he’s going to be exposed in two different phases. They are either going to run it right at him (or counter to suck him in), or they are going to make sure to find a way to get him iso’d on a TE or, god forbid, the slot receiver. Instant toast.

    Walden is not cut out to be an every down 3-4 OLB. He’s a pass-rush specialist. We don’t need a 3rd down/situational pass rusher. We need solid, all-around OLB’s. Perry won’t be one this year, but he’s got the talent to become one. He already looks more capable of covering than Walden, and he has the strength to play the run like a monster. Walden is what he is. It’s not horrible, but it’s not what we need.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      “We don’t need a 3rd down/situational pass rusher. ”

      After last season, I’d gladly take one…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • Oppy says:

        May I humbly point out, good sir, that we had Walden last season…

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

          but he was a starter, trying to do everything, and clearly overwhelmed. Putting him in a specialty role that plays to his strength – that’s a whole different ballgame.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

          • Oppy says:

            That’s fair enough, but the question now becomes do we have room on this roster for a specialist OLB’er when we desperately need well-rounded starters and backups (i guess, imo)?

            We’re constantly talking about young players who are hopeful to make to roster proving their value with the ability to wear multiple hats- play many positions, special teams contributions..

            On some level, making provisions for a specialist OLB who would only be playing limited down&distance when have have yet to cast another 3-down LB (and 3-down capable back up) opposite CM3 seems a bit of a stretch.

            Walden is like watching a cheetah fall a gazelle when rushing the passer, but can we afford to keep him based on that merit alone? I don’t know. Might be a luxury we can’t afford.

            Right now, I’d keep Brad Jones as a universal back up who won’t be a liability in any phase of the game (but might not be great in any phase, either), over keeping a guy like Walden who excels at pass rush but offers nothing else.

            That’s just my take when considering the big picture, however. We have much young talent at CB we should keep, and many DL who warrant a spot on the roster. I think utility trumps specialist at this juncture.

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  12. Adam Czech says:

    Walden’s big game to close the 2010 regular season made a lot of people forget that he was a guy the Packers signed off the street to plug a hole. This isn’t a high-end draft pick we’re talking about here.

    If Walden can play at his pre-arrest level, he’ll be just fine. Even if he sticks around as a sub-package pass rusher, he’ll probably make a few positive contributions this season.

    I don’t think Walden will be a great player, but he can be useful.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Brandon says:

      Agreed. He’s a good backup who’s not quite enough to be a starter, but he’s not getting paid all that much either ($725K in 2011).

      I don’t know how much blame he can take for those bad run defense numbers last season. All the linebackers (other than Matthews) had horrible ratings against the run in the Football Outsiders Almanac too. They didn’t get a lot of help from the scheme (lots of nickel) or the defensive line.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. D4L says:

    Anyone see the piece by a certain Journal Sentinel reporter? Looks like they’re a bit behind the times…

    http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/166203626.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. [...] the season started, Jersey Al posted this about Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden. Jersey Al said the following about Walden early in [...]

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