Last week the Packer Partisan addressed the Green Bay Packers’ talented and potent offense. Unfortunately, the Packer defense is in stark contrast, with major changes likely in store for a unit in sad shape. As the past season started, it appeared that the Packer defense was playing well, but by midseason a steep decline was obvious. Yes, there were significant injuries and some complained about Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ schemes, but the lack of quality players unfortunately reared its ugly head. Amongst other problems, the underachievement of several high-round draft picks has clogged up the Packer “draft and develop” philosophy.
General Manager Ted Thompson rarely dips into free agency, but perhaps he will this year. With lots of unrestricted Packer defensive players there is a decent chance that a good number of them will accept offers from other teams, which could turn out to be a good thing as the need for new blood on the Packers’ defense is painfully obvious.
Thompson drafted defensive players with the Packers’ first-round draft picks in each of the last two years (Nick Perry in 2012 and Datone Jones in 2013). Their underachievement to date, plus that of 2012 second-round pick Jerel Worthy, has really hurt the Packers’ defense. Two defensive starters, Brad Jones and Morgan Burnett, were recent recipients of lucrative contract extensions from Thompson, but neither played anywhere near expectations in 2013. B.J. Raji, a first-round draft pick in 2009, also had a sub-par season and now is an unrestricted free agent.
The problems don’t stop there. Neither of the Packers’ starting safeties (Burnett and M.D. Jennings) had a single interception in 2013 and neither were particularly effective defending the run either. Burnett’s play regressed in 2013 and Jennings’ performance was such that I doubt the Packers will even offer him a contract next year. A.J. Hawk had a decent season but the other starting linebackers (Clay Matthews III the exception) need to be upgraded.
The defensive line is a mess. Ryan Pickett is a free agent and is in decline because of age. Johnny Jolly is also a free agent and suffered a neck injury which may threaten his career. Raji isn’t worth anywhere near the money he demands and likely will be gone next year. Restricted free agent C.J. Wilson saw a declining number of snaps this past season, a sign that his days in Green Bay might be numbered as well.
Let’s summarize the Packers’ defensive problems in another way. Matthews is the only proven playmaker of the group. Mike Daniels and Mike Neal are ascending players and played pretty well in 2013. Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward (when healthy) and Sam Shields are pretty decent cornerbacks. Rookie Micah Hyde had a decent freshman season, but the entire balance on the defensive side of the Packers’ roster consists of either underachievers or players who lack the talent to excel in today’s NFL. A pretty sad state of affairs, but it is what it is.
All of the aforementioned problems weren’t created overnight and they surely won’t all be resolved with the talent influx in the collegiate draft this spring. Is Thompson smart enough to change gears and find playmaker help in free agency? Time will tell.
Getting the Packers’ defense back to respectability must happen if the Packers will be able to compete with the likes of the San Francisco 49ers or the Seattle Seahawks next year. Relying on the Packer offense to score 35-plus points per game in order for a decent chance to win is not a good recipe for future championships.