Most fans hear the team name of the Green Bay Packers and immediately think of their offense. Aaron Rodgers is the face of the franchise after all, so that is not a huge surprise. When you have a quarterback of his caliber, that side of the ball is going to get the majority of the spotlight.
But that doesn’t mean Don Capers’ defense was a bad unit last season. However, they weren’t exactly a top 10 unit either. They had their strengths and they had their weaknesses, much like any other team. Overall, the club ranked 22nd in overall defense. While they were fairly strong against the run, eighth in the NFL, their pass defense was a total mess, ranking next to last.
As a result, they gave up their fair share of points. A little over 24 a game to be exact. But they made up for it with sacks and turnovers. They were tied for fourth in interceptions and tied for sixth in taking down the QB.
Now they will be without some of their bigger veteran names. Julius Peppers departed for a return to Carolina, while Datone Jones opted to sign with the division rival Minnesota Vikings. As a result, the Pack loaded up on some defensive players in the draft.
Let’s take a closer look at how the units shape up leading into this season.
The D-Line seems to be a bit of a work and progress as the Green Bay Packers head into the season. Last year’s first round draft pick, Kenny Clark, is going to be asked to shoulder a lot of the load. He finished off last year strong, so the team hopes he can continue to grow. This is especially important given Letroy Guion will be suspended for the first four games of the season.
But if you are looking for the face of the line, look no further than Mike Daniels. The 28-year-old is a very important reason why the team is so good at stuffing the run. In the 16 games a season ago, he recorded 33 tackles to go along with 4 sacks. Look for him to hold down his role of top lineman for the Cheese heads.
A few more names that will be in the mix include the following. Dean Lowry, a second-year man from Northwestern who recorded eight tackles in 15 games a season ago. 30-year-old Ricky Jean-Francois, who signed a one year contract. Montravius Adams, a third round selection from Auburn. In addition, Christian Ringo, who played decent in the limited time given to him last year.
The unit will mainly line up in the nickel, so expect a good amount of 4-3 sets. The team may not have enough push in the middle for those four games without Guion, so don’t be surprised if their rush defense tapers off a bit.
The Clay Matthews saga. A few years back, he was one of the best In the NFL. But the last few years, he has battled injuries and the lack of a true position. They have bounced him inside and out several times. Last year he missed four games, thanks to shoulder and hamstring issues. He seems to be fully ready to start this year healthy.
In this writer’s opinion, the team is best keeping him inside. The only issue is they need someone to be consistent on the outside along with star Nick Perry. The team knows Perry will dominate, with 11 sacks a season ago. But who else can join forces with him on the outside?
Kyler Fackrell will likely be given an increased role this season. He showed some flashes of talent rushing the passer last season, but overall lacked consistency as a whole. Vince Biegel is a fourth rounder out of Wisconsin, but he is already set to miss time thanks to a fracture in his foot. The team brought Jayrone Elliott back on a cheap one-year deal. The Green Bay Packers may give him a chance to prove he is worth more with an expanded role.
Then on the inside, where Matthews will still likely see his fair share of time, we have some more guys who need to step up. Jake Ryan had 82 tackles a season ago and is certainly a possible candidate to up his game. Blake Martinez may have the highest upside of this group but did miss three games thanks to an MCL sprain last season. Joe Thomas got plenty of playing time a season ago but is likely the reserve man in this current crop until injuries strike again.
The secondary for the Green Bay Packers was certainly suspect a season ago. The issue came more on the outside with the corners than it did with the safeties up the middle. Morgan Burnett, who picked off two passes and made 93 tackles last season, will once again man the unit. His partner in crime, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who comes off his first Pro Bowl season, will look to take another step forward in his fourth season.
That leads us to the outside, where things are a little dicier. Kevin King, who was drafted 33rd overall this year out of Washington, is expected to take on a big role. He is big and fast, standing at 6-3 and running a 4.43 40 at the combine. He is the type of athlete this team needs in the secondary to improve on last year’s awful pass defense.
He will likely line up across from Davon House, who returns to Green Bay, where he spent his first four seasons, after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. House, who will turn 29 this season, has had his ups and downs throughout his career.
If he cannot prove his worth, the following three names will be looked to. The Green Bay Packers gave LaDarius Gunter a chance to prove himself last seasons when injuries struck others. He showed some flashes of potential, but also made his share of mistakes. The talents there, he just needs to be more consistent. Then there is Damarious Randall, who was supposed to be one of the team’s top corners a season ago, had his year derailed by injuries. Quinten Rollins similarly had his year hurt by a groin injury.
Then the wild card becomes Josh James. He was drafted in the second round as a safety from North Carolina State. So he will surely provide depth behind Morgan. However, the defense could also shift James to corner and even linebacker. The team has high hopes for the rookie, so expect to see him on the field in some capacity.
Last season the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North with a 10-6 record. While the defense was not a stand out unit a year ago, they still accomplished plenty. If this side of the ball can take a step forward this year, this is going to be a very dangerous team.
Editor’s Note: This article can also be seen in our upcoming NFL Preview Edition.