13

November

Packers Midseason Grades: Defense

CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints

CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints

On Monday, we graded the Packers offense through nine games. Today, we look at the defense.

Defensive Line: C-
If Mike McCarthy says the Packers are going to fix something in the offseason, they generally fix it. This offseason, what needed fixing was tackling. So far, the tackling appears fixed, and the Packers appear to have the right tools to make sure it doesn’t break again.

The Packers still give up too many runs where the running back gets stopped up the middle, but bounces outside for a big gain. Other than that, the front three (or four, or two, or sometimes one, however many people Dom Capers puts on the line), has been solid in run defense and tackling.

Ryan Pickett is having a strong season, highlighted by a dominant game against Arian Foster and the Texans when the Packers needed him most. Cross your fingers that the injury bug doesn’t infect Pickett because he’s a huge part of the improved run defense. C.J. Wilson has also quietly been decent against the run.

The overall grade comes down a bit because I’d still like to see more pass rush out of this group. Mike Daniels and Mike Neal have flashed occasionally. Jerel Worthy has had a few moments. But this group needs to be a little more consistent. I’m not expecting Packers linemen to rack up a ton of sacks, but there are too many occasions where Capers calls a blitz up the middle and it just gets swallowed up.

If the defensive line is doing a better job of winning its one-on-one battles (I’m looking at you, Raji) and creating chaos (c’mon, Worthy), those inside blitzing lanes open up and the Packers can get in the quarterback’s face.

Linebackers: B+
Remember back in school when your teacher made you do group assignments? It usually ended up being one really smart and really motivated kid doing most of the work and the entire group taking credit.

That really smart and motivated kid was Clay Matthews last season. Mathews is even smarter and more motivated this season, but now the rest of his group has decided to also pitch in.

First and foremost, D.J. Smith (before he went down) and Brad Jones deserve a lot of credit for filling in for Desmond Bishop. Neither is a playmaker like Bishop, but they’ve held the position together and generally have done what needs doing.

Erik Walden finally got an entire offseason with the team and is having an excellent season. How excellent? I’ll let Bob McGinn explain:

Walden’s numbers are almost identical to Matthews’ in a number of key statistical categories. Walden’s production is listed first, Matthews’ production second:

Tackles per snap (one every 11.9, one every 14.7); tackles for loss (three, two); missed tackles (one, two); turnover plays (one, one); passes defensed (four, three); plays of 20 yards or more allowed (one, two); and touchdown passes allowed (one, one).

Rushing the passer is the only area in which Matthews is superior. His total of nine sacks dwarf’s Walden’s one, and he has a 2-to-1 margin in all pressures, 33½ to 15.

Putting A.J. Hawk on a snap count seems to have upped his energy exponentially. He’s faded a bit the last two games, so let’s hope the bye gets him going again.

It looks like Matthews will be out for a bit with a hamstring injury. Now is when we’ll find out for sure if Matthews is still the one doing all the work in this group, or if the others finally deserve some of the credit as well.

Cornerbacks: B
The future is bright for this group. Casey Hayward is doing his best Charles Woodson impression and Davon House has the size necessary to match up against bigger receivers.

Tramon Williams is Tramon Williams: Reliable. Sam Shields looked more aggressive before he got hurt and I’m looking forward to his return from a knee injury.

I don’t want to write any more about the cornerbacks. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far and I don’t want to jinx it.

How’s that for groundbreaking analysis?

Safeties: C+
Will Morgan Burnett ever fill the void left by Nick Collins?

Maybe that’s setting the bar too high, but it’s a reasonable question to ask. Burnett is good. He makes the routine plays and is assignment-sure, for the most part.

But I’m used to having a dynamic safety back there, someone who can anticipate a floating pass right away, sprint across the field, and pick it off on the sideline. Burnett isn’t dynamic yet. If he becomes dynamic, this defense will be tough to deal with.

Moving Woodson to safety has been a bit of a yawner. He can’t get to the quarterback any more and he struggles in coverage. Now he’s hurt.

The news is better for Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings. McMillian likes to tackle Jennings has recovered nicely from the Fail Mary fiasco.

There has been little to complain about at safety for the Packers this season. But if just one of the backstops can take their game to another level, it could drastically improve the defense overall.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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10 Responses to “Packers Midseason Grades: Defense”

  1. Turophile says:

    The grades are all in the right ball park in my opinion.

    I’d give the D line a C+ because we have done a fair job against some good run offenses. I like the job C.J.Wilson is doing this year. I give Raji a partial pass since he has had ankle problems and was on the injury report for weeks 6,7,8,9.

    If his ankle means he has been getting less work each week, that is no bad thing. He will be fresher at the tag end of the season than he has been the last two years. The overall snaps per season is a key element in how the big bodied D line guys play.

    You cannot expect too much from Daniels and Worthy this season, being rookies, but with those two and Wilson, we certainly should be trending upward.

    The one guy I have heard absolutely nothing about this year is LB Terrell Manning. I know he had an infection earlier in camp, but we have heard nothing since then.

    As for Safeties, no arguments with the grade, I think it hovers between C+ and B-. For some reason I think of McMillian as the ‘successor’ to Collins. I think he’ll end up a better player than Burnett, but that is little more than a shot in the dark by me.

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    • Dan "FireMMNow" Blakley FireMMNow says:

      I do not think the McMillan statement is a stretch. He has unbelievable athleticism and a hard nosed mentality. The defense changed for the better when he started getting more snaps. He makes some misreads and has given up a few big plays, but he brings a different element to the D than Burnett or Jennings. I like him quite a bit moving forward.

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      • Adam Czech says:

        I wonder if sonme of Burnett’s athleticism got zapped by his knee injury in 2010.

        It sounds like I’m criticizing Burnett. I’m not, but I thought he’d be a little more dynamic. If McMillian turns into the dynamic safety of the group, it’d be fine w/ me.

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  2. Lucas says:

    I hear what you’re saying about the D-line’s passrush. Your critique is more about them opening for the blitzers, not necessarily getting to the QB. Much of their sack totals are dependent on the calls of Capers. Does the particular call enable them to pin their ears back, or push/collapse the pocket? Even in one-on-one matchups, a particular call may require contain responsibilities and gap control, even on third and long. I blame play call more than ability and on field success.

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  3. Kevin says:

    If the D-line is a C-minus this year, what were they last year? F minus minus?… I’d give them a little more respect

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  4. Oppy says:

    On McGinn’s comparison of Walden to Matthews:

    When I read this on JSO, I wanted so badly to post, I’ll take the time to do it here.

    McGinn’s comparison of Walden’s production to Clay’s as a measure of value is completely flawed!

    Why? Because he’s comparing production in categories such as Tackles, TFL, Passes Defensed, Etc based on a per-SNAP basis. This needs to be rectified so as to reflect the number of tackles per running play headed in their direction, number of pass break ups per passes in their direction, etc and so forth.

    I am willing to bet my life on the fact that the opposing offense runs the ball directly at Erik Walden more frequently than they run it towards Clay Matthews, and I’ll bet the same can be said for when they drop back in coverage as well. Teams may have tried to “slow down” Matthews’ pass rush by running it at him early in the season, but I’m pretty sure they realized by week three that he’s going eat up the RB on his way to the QB, too.

    Could be wrong, but I’d like to see an (admittedly subjective) breakdown of tackles/passes defensed etc. per OPPORTUNITY and opposed to per SNAP. Walden is having a fine year, but for McGinn to paint him in the same light as Matthews “statistically” seems either errant or disingenuous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

    • Adam Czech says:

      I didn’t take it as McGinn saying Walden is on the same level as Matthews, more as something to think about, especially for the Crowd who still thinks Walden is terrible.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

      • Oppy says:

        Well, I don’t think he’s terrible, but I don’t think he should be put in these terms, as McGinn stated:

        “The team has just five players headed for unrestricted free agency. Taking care of Walden, either now or early next year, should be their top priority.”

        I don’t even think Jennings is a “must sign” player, but he’s a bigger priority than Walden in my opinion.

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