It’s hard to fathom but at one point last season the Green Bay Packers defense was playing better then their offense. It’s true, for how well Aaron Rodgers and company have played from last years playoff run up until now people seem to forget that they were very mediocre for the better part of the 2009-2010 season. Not to take anything away from what the offense did on that magical run last year but in my mind I can think of more big defensive plays that propelled the Packers to their Super Bowl XLV victory. There was Tramon Williams ripping the hearts of out of the Falcons with his pick 6 before halftime, BJ Raji doing his fatboy dance in Chicago, and Nick Collins taking a Big Ben pass to the house to jump out to an early lead in the Super Bowl. Why am I living in the past with the Packers playoff run about to begin? Because in order for Green Bay to defend and repeat as champs they are going to need similar big plays from a defense that has been torched for most of the year. Here are 5 things and/or players from the defensive side of the ball that must change in order for the Packers to win their 5th Lombardi trophy.
1.) OLB – The packers have one of the games most feared pass rushers in the game with Clay Matthews, however his production has been slowed because teams have been able to double team him due to lack of productivity on the opposite side. Green Bay has tried Frank Zombo, Erik Walden, Brad Jones, and even undrafted rookie Vic So’oto. It is key that whoever they decide to play can at least draw enough attention to allow Clay to get home to the QB. While much can be said for how poorly the secondary has played a lot of that can be attributed to the lack of pass rush. You can only cover for so long and in a 3-4 defense the pass rush is generated from the OLB’s. Green Bay must find consistently on the other side of Matthews for this playoff run and Ted Thompson needs to address this long-term need this spring in the Draft.
2.) Mike Neal – Much was expected of Neal coming into this season, so much that the Packers decided to let their best defensive end, Cullen Jenkins, walk in free agency. Neal has been a bust thus far, not to the level of Justin Harrell, but he is headed into that direction quickly. He missed a good portion of the year with a knee injury but he has been active for almost 2 months now so rust should not be an issue. Mike Neal can silence many of his critics with a strong postseason and live up to potential of being a 2nd round pick. More importantly he could add another component to the lacking Green Bay pass rush. And with the Giants and Saints standing in the Packers path to Indianapolis they are going to need all the pass rush they can get to stop the vaunted offenses.
3.) Tramon Williams & Sam Shields – Both of these players played crucial roles in last years playoff run. Tramon Williams had a coming out party and Sam Shields went from an undrafted wide receiver turned cornerback to the starting nickel back on a super bowl contender. Williams has not had the big plays Packer fans have come to expect from him this year but outside of Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson he is the best playmaker on this defense. He is also their best cover corner and needs to get back to shutting down the oppositions primary target. Shields has had a sophomore slump this year and kind of hit a wall. Not many players in the NFL possess as much raw talent as Shields but he needs to harness these skills to be more consistent. Shields emergence last year solved a gapping hole in the secondary that needed to be field. Shields play really dictates how Dom Capers can use ball hawking Charles Woodson. If Shields continues to struggle like he has this year look to see more of Woodson in coverage and less of him blitzing and playing around the line of scrimmage.
4.) BJ Raji, Howard Green, Ryan Pickett – These behemoth of men have showed how stout they can be in the run game in the past. Lately though they have been gashed for huge gains from no name running backs. With home field advantage in Green Bay and unpredictable weather conditions looming, it is possible that games may turn in to slugfests on the ground. With high winds and snow, teams may be forced to pound the ball through the run. These three need to hold their ground and shut down the run game of the opposition. In doing this, they will make offenses be more one dimensional and predictable.
5.) Dom Capers – It’s hard to criticize Capers because he has played such a huge role in the Packers resurgence to the top of the NFL but some blame needs to be placed on the leader of the defense for their poor performance this year. Yes, I know Green Bay led the NFL in interceptions but living off of turnovers is a dangerous way to operate in this league, especially come playoff time. He needs to work his magic again and come up with a scheme to generate more of a pass rush because the rush just has not been getting to QB this year. Like I said before, many weaknesses in the linebacker core and secondary can be accounted for if the Packers can put pressure on the oppositions passing game.