Yesterday, Brandon wrote a post linking to a Pro Football Focus article about how Clay Matthews is a really, really good pass rusher, while Frank Zombo is rather poor. Of course, as a rookie undrafted free agent, it would be very unfair to expect Frank Zombo to be more than an okay, serviceable player, but there's still an issue here. While it's certainly not Zombo's fault that he was a below average NFL pass rusher last season, it's unreasonable to expect the Packers to be a Super Bowl contender year after year with only one great pass rusher.
Strohman, a guy who everyone who visits this site on a regular basis knows, made what I thought was a decent point in the comments of that article. Or, at least, it struck a chord with me and made me think a bit about our defense and why it's not necessarily a big deal that Zombo (or Brad Jones/Erik Walden) aren't anywhere near the level of Clay Matthews. Strohman said:
Until we get a compliment to Matthews we just have to make due w/ what we have. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. [It is] up to Dom to put them into a position to succeed, and Green to coach them to improve.
Upon reading this, I think one of those cartoon lightbulbs popped up above my head. We don't need a complement to Matthews, we make up for the lack of a complement in other ways.
First of all, guys like Clay Matthews don't fall from the sky, and when a team has a player like Matthews and multiple needs other than a pass rusher, they're not going to reach in the draft or overpay a free agent just to get a similar player on the opposite side. Yes, it would aid the Packers considerably to have another Matthews on the opposite side, but doing so would require sacrifice elsewhere. It isn't worth it.
However, we have ways to make up for that missing player, and we do it quite well. If you're a regular APC reader, you might recall my old post on the Capers Nickel, or the 2-4-5 defense we run where the two outside linebackers are stand-up pass rushers that serve the same purpose as 4-3 ends on third down, while Charles Woodson plays as a rover in addition to a traditional four-man secondary. This allows for great pass coverage, but it also allows for very unique blitzing packages.
Because of Charles Woodson's unique skill set and the abilities of Sam Shields - just about the most talented third cornerback in the league - the Packers can run all kinds of crazy blitzes out of this setup. Obviously, Woodson blitzes quite a bit out of this setup. You'll also see Nick Collins blitz while Woodson helps over the top or one of the corners blitz while Woodson covers in man to man. It's effective, and it covers up for the relative lack of pass rushing skill - at least compared to Matthews - that Zombo, Jones, and Walden have.
As much as I'd love Clay Matthews Part II on the other side of the pass rush, Dom Capers has done an excellent job designing various blitz packages that allow us to get pressure on the quarterback without having that player.
And honestly, who's to say Zombo won't get a lot better? He was an average pass rusher, but he also managed four sacks as a rookie undrafted free agent. I think he has some room (and ability) for improvement. Let's not write off the dude yet.