17

January

2011 Packers Defense: Where Does The Buck Stop?

I have been watching a lot of football these past two weekends, and I think the only NFL game I didn’t watch at least part of was Denver vs. New England. (Really, was there a point to seeing that one?) And while I’ve cached away a lot of observations, there are a couple big things that have stuck with me. The most impressionable of these, I believe, was the way the San Francisco 49ers defense handled the New Orleans Saints.

If any of you watched this game, you should know what I am talking about. To put it succinctly, I rather enjoyed watching their physical play, discipline, and unrelenting attacks on the ball.

But if you asked me to name more than three players from that unit, I don’t think I could do it.

Which made me think . . . what is wrong with the Packers’ defense, then? They have what I believe to be a group of fairly solid players that compliment some big talent, yet they never played like it this season. Last season they did, and it won them quite a few games where the offense sputtered.

Now, we could easily turn this into a “blame game” and start pointing fingers, and I guess I will be depending on how you look at it. What I really want to know, though, is where and how this group needs to improve.

After Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants, I noticed a significant number of fans voicing their extreme displeasure with Dom Capers. Let him go. Reggie McKenzie can take him to Oakland. Or just let him be on his way.

Of course, others retaliated to this, mostly mentioning his lack of playmaking defensive linemen and linebackers.

Now, both sides do have valid points. On the one hand, the loss of Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins could have been the right recipe for disaster. Take away your biggest asset from the line, then subtract your best safety valve in the secondary, and what are you going to end up with? Nobody was really able to replace either of these two like some of the injured players were last year. Their loss was felt all season, and it was extremely painful to watch the amount of time Eli Manning had in the pocket.

10

November

Packers Defense: Identifying Reasons Behind the Unit’s Decline in 2011

Whether you think it is a large-scale problem or not, the Green Bay Packers defense has undeniably taken a step back in 2011.

The numbers don’t lie. Just a season ago, the Packers defense finished ranked No. 5 in total yards (309.1/game) and passing yards (194.2/game) and No. 2 in points (15.0/game). Eight games into 2011, the Packers rank No. 30 in total yards (399.6), No. 31 in passing yards (299.6/game) and No. 17 in points (22.4).

Somewhere along the way, the Packers have managed to allow 90 yards and a touchdown more this season than the last.

What has caused this sharp decline?

Let’s take a look at some of the potential reasons:

Lack of pressure from front seven

Everything from a defensive standpoint begins up front with pressuring the quarterback, so let’s start here. In terms of sacks, the Packers have 19 in 2011, or roughly 2.4 a game. In 2010, the Packers had 47 total sacks in the regular season, or almost 2.94 a contest. That’s a drop off of almost half a sack a game. Measurable, but not an eye-popping number. To be perfectly honest, the sack statistic alone is the most overvalued and outdated stat we have on defensive pressure. You have to look deeper into the Packers ability to pressure the pocket to get a better idea.

The guys from Pro Football Focus can help shed some light on the situation. According to PFF, the Packers had 337 sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback pressures in 20 games (16.85/game) during the 2010 season. This season, the Packers have 124 (15.5/game). Again, there is a drop off of over one a game, but it’s not like the pressure from a per game standpoint has dropped off the face of the earth.

What about per passing play? The Packers played somewhere in the ball park of 800 total snaps in pass coverage in 20 games last season. With 337 “pressure plays” the Packers averaged one every 2.37 snaps. This season, the Packers defense has played somewhere near 370 total snaps in pass coverage. Average out the 124 pressures and we get one every 2.98 snaps. If you trust these stats, then the Packers have actually pressured the quarterback with a higher efficiency this season than the last.

14

September

McCarthy: Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Neal Out For “Significant” Amount Of Time After Undergoing Surgery

In only his second season, Packers DE Mike Neal is again expected miss significant playing time

One week of the 2011 season is in the books,  and already one potential key Green Bay Packer is out for an extended period of time.

During his afternoon press conference today, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy announced that defensive end Mike Neal, the hopeful replacement for the departed Cullen Jenkins,  recently underwent a surgical procedure on his injured knee.

McCarthy said that while Neal will miss “significant time,” which usually is a harbinger that the player is headed to injured reserve, he does not think Neal’s 2011 season is lost.  That said, if injuries continue to pile up (again), the Packers may have to put him on IR in order to clear roster space.

This is a heartbreaking development for the young defensive lineman.  Neal showed promise last season before landing on injured reserve and anyone who followed him on Twitter (@mneal96) knows how eager he was to get back on the field this year.

These developments immediately call into concern GM Ted Thompson’s decision not to resign Jenkins this season.  While he was oft injured himself, the Packers have some depth issues along the defensive line and even if Jenkins was beat out by Neal there would still be some veteran insurance on the bench.

Jarius Wynn is expected to get the start in place of Neal for the long haul. Wynn had a solid preseason, but Neal had such potential and a big upswing that it will be hard to replace.  Then again, as we saw with the 2010 team, the ability of defensive coordinator Dom Capers to plug guys into his defense and not miss a beat is uncanny.

As for my opinion, Neal is toeing the line on being labeled “injury prone.”  I’m not ready to call him “Justin Harrell with potential” just yet, but he has to stay healthy if he hopes to make any kind of impact in the league.    As for the hindsight review of letting Jenkins walk, with his past injuries, I’m not sure it would have been much of an improvement.  When healthy, Jenkins was one of the best in the NFL, but that wasn’t on a very consistent basis.

29

August

Despite Losses, Packers’ A.J. Hawk Expects Big Things in 2011

Green Bay Packers Linebacker AJ Hawk

Jim Biever, Packers.com

A.J. Hawk knows the score. In the National Football League, roster turnover is part of the business. Teams change and evolve every season due to the draft and free agency.

The 2011 Green Bay Packers are no different.

After winning their fourth Super Bowl title in February, the Packers were forced to cut ties with several contributors from that championship team, including defensive end Cullen Jenkins and linebacker Nick Barnett.

In their place, the Packers are turning to two players—one who has proven he can play and the other who has failed to show he can stay on the field in his short NFL career. Of course, we’re talking about Desmond Bishop and Mike Neal.

When I talked to Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk on the phone last week, he said the team has high expectations for their defense despite the losses.

However, he did express that it might be difficult to replace Jenkins in the Packers defense.

“The thing about Cullen Jenkins is that you just can’t replace a guy like him,” Hawk said. “He’s a special player. He’s one of the best interior pass rushers I’ve ever seen. Just super quick, with good moves and a knack at getting to the quarterback.”

An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Jenkins signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles a week or so after the lockout was lifted. When asked if he thought the team would bring back Jenkins, Hawk seemed a touch surprised but also cognizant of the NFL’s business landscape.

“Yeah, I was hoping we were going to find a way to bring him back, but I understand there’s a business side to this,” Hawk said. “It hurts us, but I know those kind of things don’t always happen, especially this offseason with the lockout. We only had a short time to negotiate with him, which I’m sure made it tough on both sides.”

The Packers never did get serious in bringing back Jenkins, either because of the perceived cost it would take or the confidence the organization had in the players behind him. Being 30 years old and having an injury history likely also led to the Packers’ failure to offer any deal that Jenkins would have accepted.

13

August

Thoughts on the Dozen Green Bay Players Sent Packing

Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson

Ted Thompson on the prowl...

It happens every Summer when Training Camp rolls around in Green Bay, at least under the TED THOMPSON’S regime. Some familiar veteran names show up as ‘cuts’ from the PACKERS roster as the team gets under way preparing for the upcoming season both financially & athletically. It may be less frustrating to deal with this year than most because the team has the Lombardi Trophy on display within the bowels of Lambeau. But once again a rather long list of vet players will no longer wear the Green-and-Gold.

Let me remind you who is MIA as the team prepares for its first Pre-Season game.

NICK BARNETT/ILB     BILLS    Too much $ already being paid to HAWK/BISHOP inside.

ATARI BIGBY/S    Once he got his big contract he’s been fighting HARRELL for hot tub time too often.

BRANDON CHILLAR/LB    Was coming back to team until he hurt his leg (again) in offseason.

DARYN COLLEDGE/LG  CARDINALS    Never completely satisfied coaches with inconsistent play. Too expensive.

KOREY HALL/FB/ST   SAINTS       Pure Special Teamers get too expensive after a few years.

JUSTIN HARRELL/DE     The king of the training room was never available.

BRANDON JACKSON/RB    BROWNS     Solid 3rd Down RB, but wanted, and got, more $ than that role is worth.

CULLEN JENKINS/DE     EAGLES    Great attitude, average athlete who greatly benefitted under CAPERS schemes.

DERRICK MARTIN/S      Marginal player who helped during injury rash last year… no upside.

BRADY POPPINGA/LB    RAMS   Too old, too expensive for ST and back-up OLB with no speed.

JASON SPITZ/OG    JAGUARS    Looked like the real deal until back injury made him a risky investment.

MARK TAUSCHER/RT     Could still play, if he wanted, but BULAGA & SHERROD are in town.

ANTHONY SMITH/S    TITANS    See Derrick Martin

I also believe JAMES JONES would have been on the list without a verbal shout-out from AARON RODGERS  to bring back one of his favorite targets.

For those of you mathematically challenged, that’s a baker’s dozen vets no longer around to do their thing in a PACKERS uniform. It’s not as though they were all chopped liver. Even though most will not all start in their new NFL homes it is clear that other teams perceived value in most of the PACKERS cast-offs.

1

August

Dirty Birds: How The Philadelphia Eagles Have Set The Stage For A Packers Encore

Will the Eagles' new "Dream team" allow the Packers to fly under the radar?

While the Packers have gone about their usual ways of signing undrafted rookies and their own free agents, the Philadelphia Eagles have taken a different approach. In the blur that has been the first week of free agency since the lockout ended, the Eagles swooped in (pun intended) and gathered up many of the big name free agents of the 2011 class.  Nnmadi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins (that stings a little), Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie, Vince Young and Jason Babin are all new members of the team. NFL.com this morning already declared this a “dream team.”

My question to Reid, the Eagles and the NFL media is this: Have you learned nothing from the Miami Heat?

Yes, the Heat made it to the NBA Finals but they lost in six games which really is all that matters.  The Heat, with their “big three” lost to a team that was truly a better team than they were.

Sure, the Eagles added a lot of superstars but are they truly the best team in the NFC? My answer is no.

In fact, the Eagles have set the stage for the true best team in the NFC to fly under the radar and make a run at Super Bowl XLVI.  It just so happens that this team is the defending world champions.

Thanks to the big splashes made by the Eagles in free agency, the Packers are now in an ideal situation with everyone fawning and drooling over what Andy Reid and company have accomplished in such a short period of time.  As crazy as it sounds, the Packers now have the element of surprise in their corner and they are (it bears repeating) THE DEFENDING WORLD CHAMPIONS.

It’s obvious Packers coach Mike McCarthy will use the Eagles’ spending spree to his team’s advantage.  His team is suddenly yesterday’s news despite winning the Lombardi Trophy six months ago.  It’s rare that a team defending its title goes from hunted to the hunter, but that’s what the Green Bay Packers have become.

Aaron Rodgers and company must be salivating.  A few short months after having everyone sing his praises, Rodgers suddenly finds himself on the back page.  One would think the rest of the NFL should have learned by now what happens when you scorn Aaron Charles Rodgers but apparently they haven’t.

31

July

Green Bay Packers Free Agent Tracker

Green Bay Packers 2011 free agency tracker:

 

FB John Kuhn: RE-SIGNED WITH PACKERS

The Packers re-signed fullback John Kuhn on a three-year contract worth $7.5 million. The deal puts Kuhn amongst the highest paid NFL fullbacks.

While you may raise your eyebrows a bit at that, I think it actually makes sense. Kuhn contributed in multiple ways beyond blocking last season, including shouldering some of the running back responsibilities, catching passes, short yardage back and special teams contributor. Kuhn is also a popular player among fans and in the locker room.

Kuhn wanted back in Green Bay all along, but he played it smart and let the market set the price for him. With Houston making a strong push for Kuhn to replace the departed Vonta Leach, the Packers most likely paid Kuhn more than they would have liked. That’s not to say he’s not worth it. Kuhn is a valuable asset for the Packers to have in their hip pocket, but this does affect one of the tight ends being looked at as a possible H back.

He won’t be running the ball as much as last season, but I’d expect Kuhn to help cover for the loss of Brandon Jackson on third downs.

WR James Jones: RE-SIGNED WITH PACKERS

The Packers agreed to terms with Jones on a three-year deal worth $9.6 million.

It sounds as if Aaron Rodgers and Donald Driver went to bat for Jones, and when teams in receiver market went elsewhere, Jones decided to come back with the Packers.

We heard Rodgers say that Jones should be the Packers No. 1 priority, but I still have doubts that he swayed Thompson in any way. The more likely reason for Jones’ return to Green Bay was the fact that receiver-needy teams such as Minnesota and New York signed other players, with the Vikings acquiring Michael Jenkins and the Jets Plaxico Burress.

Now, the Packers return all their pass-catchers from 2010. With this many toys at their disposal, expectations will be sky-high for this offense.

DE Cullen Jenkins: SIGNED WITH EAGLES 

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed Cullen Jenkins to a five-year, $25 million deal.