Last season, it was pretty easy to say that the Green Bay Packers were propped up by Aaron Rodgers and the offense. The defense was slightly below average at best and embarrassing at worst. The green and gold were 22nd in yards/game allowed (363.9 ypg) while being a respectable 8th in rushing yards/game allowed (94.7 ypg). However, why would any team try to run the ball against the Packers when the defense was a basement-dwelling 31st in passing yards per game allowed? A combination of youth, injury and lack of skill was a plague on the cornerback unit. Frustrated Packer fans had to watch as opposing receivers beat them repeatedly. Hey, Atlanta, The North Remembers.
This season, Ted Thompson has appeared to put an emphasis on addressing the defensive weaknesses via the draft and signing a couple veterans that could help out. By signing Ricky Jean-Francois as a veteran pass rusher and bringing back former Packer cornerback Davon House, the Packers added some veteran presences to the young units. Green Bay also re-signed pass rusher Nick Perry to a 5-year, $60 million deal and will hope to get another double-digit sack season out of their best edge rusher.
Losses on the defensive side of the ball include Micah Hyde, Julius Peppers, Sam Shields and Datone Jones. Peppers is aging, but still played at a high level last season and Shields, who usually covered opposing teams’ WR1, was never able to shake the symptoms of his multiple concussions. Datone Jones was a solid role player, but never quite lived up to first-round draft status out of the 2013 draft class. While Hyde was a versatile player for Dom Capers’ defense, he wasn’t worth the price tag.
Our buddy Ted hardly likes to form his rosters from the free agency period, so let’s look at what the Packers added through the draft.
The Pack had a late round pick in the first round, but ended up trading down to the first pick of the second for more assets. They grabbed Kevin King, defensive back out of Washington, who’s a long 6’3.” King has already started working in with the first-team defense, replacing LaDarius Gunter on the outside. The Packers are hoping that King can make an impact early and his size should be able to give him an advantage that isn’t afforded to young, smaller rookie DBs. Reports from camp suggest that King and Davon House will play on the outside with Damarious Randall or Quinten Rollins playing in the slot, a more comfortable position for both of them. Rollins’ play has earned rave reviews recently as well, and he could end up a starter on the boundary instead.
Green Bay used their second pick of round two on Safety Josh Jones out of NC State. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett have been a solid tandem as the last line of defense (when Burnett is healthy). However, Jones can be a solid replacement for Micah Hyde as a safety that roams the defense as a cover man and also playing up near the line of scrimmage. He and Burnett have also seen plenty of time at inside linebacker thus far in camp.
The Packers also added Montravius Adams, DT out of Auburn and Vince Biegel, OLB out of Wisconsin to round out their first 4 picks, though both are sidelined at present with foot injuries. Defense was the focus early in the draft, and hopefully they add more to the Packers defense than more recent early round defenders drafted by the Pack.
New additions can only improve this defense, but for them to take the next step, it’s up to the incumbent players on the roster from last year to make bigger strides and to stay healthy.
Perry was in a contract year and wore a club for quite a few games last season, but he needs to take the next step and become a game-changer on defense. Clinton-Dix has been improving year after year, making his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2016, but a big leap forward like fellow Alabama alum Landon Collins would change the secondary for the better. The linebacking corps has been just as big of a liability over recent years as the secondary and it’s time for the younger backers to earn their keep.
In the trenches, second-year pro Dean Lowry, showed some signs of playmaking skills last season, but reports from training camp this season suggest that he could be primed for a breakout role. A couple times this summer, Coach Mike McCarthy has described Lowry as “bigger, faster, stronger” like he’s been listening to a lot of Daft Punk. He also stated that Lowry has “taken the steps that you’re looking for.” He can help replace the presence that Peppers and Datone Jones supplied on the line.
To give you an idea of where the Packers defense should rank, FantasyPros.com has the Packers ranked at 17. If the pieces fall in line, that sounds like a fair assessment, but they’re more likely to fall in the early 20’s range with some upside to rank higher if they get good health and a consistent pass rush. It’s not unheard of for rookie defenders to make immediate impacts, but this squad will need patience above all else.
Defense wins championships and it will be exciting to watch this defense attempt to reach it’s true potential.