In defense of Erik Walden: Packers Third Best OLB
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|
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.——————
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.