To say the defense of the Green Bay Packers struggled in 2013 we be doing the word 'struggled' an injustice. Words like sieve, porous, and confused come to mind when describing the job done by the Packers defense last season.
One of the biggest reasons for the poor play by the defense was the ineffectiveness at the outside linebacker position. For the second consecutive season the Packers haven't gotten enough production out of Nick Perry. The former first-round draft choice has totaled just six sacks in 17 career games. The Packers also are missing impact plays from Mike Neal, who was a second round draft choice himself in the 2010 NFL Draft. He played his first season at outside linebacker in 2013 after making the move from the defensive line. Neal flashed at times, but it still wasn't enough to make defenses worry about someone other than Clay Matthews. Matthews had his own challenges in 2013, in particular, staying healthy as he has now missed 12 games, including the playoffs in his five years in Green Bay. All this added up to one of the weakest outside linebacker units in all of the NFL.
2013 Outside Linebackers
Projected Starters: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry
Backups: Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer
Practice Squad: None
Released: Dezman Moses
Reserve/Future Deal: Chase Thomas
With Matthews in the prime of his career and sitting on a brand new six-year, $70 million contract, the Packers new what they had in the five-year pro heading into training camp. The biggest job for defensive coordinator Dom Capers in 2013 was to get second-year pro Nick Perry going after a rookie season marred by injury. Most people within and outside of the Packers organization were expecting Perry to have a breakout year after showing some flashes in his abbreviated rookie campaign. They also had a backup plan in case Perry didn't make the next step in his career by moving Mike Neal to outside linebacker.
The Packers also used a late draft pick (sixth round) on Nate Palmer and signed undrafted free agent Andy Mulumba to round out the outside linebacker position.
Injuries played a big part for the Packers entire team throughout 2013, and the outside linebacker position was arguably hit the hardest. In the regular season, Matthews missed five games, including the 23-20 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Perry also missed five games with a broken foot, a season after he missed the final ten games after undergoing wrist surgery. Neal did play all 16 games for the first time in his career, but was adjusting to a new position and was banged up all season long, limiting his effectiveness. Mulumba missed two games, and Palmer was inactive for eight games as well (though a few of those were as a healthy scratch).
Even when healthy, the Packers outside linebackers were unable to bring consistent pressure amassing a total of 17.5 sacks between the unit. The Packers defense as a whole finished with 44 sacks on the season, good enough for 8th in the NFL. However, a large part of that production came from the defensive line and inside linebackers rather than the outside. Aside from Matthews, generating a consistent pass rush has been the Achilles heel for the other players at the position for the past several years.
The Packers head into the 2014 offseason, again looking to find a suitable partner to play Robin to Matthews' Batman.
Overall Grade: D
Because of the injuries, the Packers have asked too much out of young and inexperienced players over the past few seasons on the defensive side of the ball. The outside linebacker unit in particular has seen its fair share of late draft picks and undrafted talent. Names such as Vic So'oto, Frank Zombo, Dezman Moses, Nate Palmer, Andy Mulumba come to mind when picturing underachievers rushed into action and expected to perform right away by the Green Bay coaching staff. This all correlates to general manager Ted Thompson's unwillingness to go out in free agency and address positions of need, but that is a debate for a different day.
With so much uncertainty at the position, it seems plausible that the team will once again address the outside linebacker position in the 2014 NFL Draft.
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