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Some Big “What Ifs” Concerning Packers’ Pass Defense

Packer Nation is conflicted. We’ve all endured the agonies of watching good offensive teams, and even some ordinary ones, shred the Green Bay Packers’ defensive secondary with ease. There were several pitiful performances last year, though things were even worse in 2016.

Many of the faithful are ready to cast off our current defensive backs, use some more top draft selections on their replacements, and scour free agency for a shutdown cornerback. My advice is: don’t panic.

Rex Ryan’s Insight

When the Packers hired Mike Pettine as the new defensive coordinator, long-time NFL coach and analyst Rex Ryan praised the move, and added, “(Pettine’s system) will make good players great. If you’re an average player, you’ll be good.”

What if he’s right?

What if Davon House goes from average to good, and Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett advance toward greatness? What if the youngsters, Kevin King, Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice, and maybe others, bust out under Pettine’s system and guidance? What if Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gets re-motivated by a good kick in the ass?

Pettine has consistently caused this to happen elsewhere. Let’s be patient and see if it happens here.

Did Players Fail Capers, or Vice Versa?

For years, the entire NFL establishment, and especially the media, treated Dom Capers with reverence. He was a guru, the defensive genius of the NFL, the guy with a 40-year resume. Maybe he was all that, but what if he lost his touch over the last half-dozen years?

The record indicates this is exactly what happened. I previously detailed how in recent years almost every Packers’ defensive back has regressed, rather than improved. Can you name any Packers’ DB who’s gotten better while in Green Bay under Capers?

It’s painfully easy to name people who have gotten better without Capers: Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde both were unwanted in Green Bay, but then became All-Pros the very first year they went elsewhere. How often do you see that happen?

It’s hard to dispute: under Capers, Green Bay defensive backs weren’t reaching anywhere near their potential.

Cupboard Isn’t Bare

What if the Packers have ample talent at safety and cornerback on the roster right now? What if these players have just been held back by some antiquated philosophies and schemes that wore out some time ago? What if Pettine fixes the pre-set problems by which the players were telegraphing their intentions to opposing quarterbacks?

I don’t recall any of the national draft experts taking issue with recent draft selections. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Damarious Randall, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, and now Kevin King and Josh Jones – they all played in big-time football conferences (except Quinten Rollins), and all had impressive college careers. They also had good NFL Combine numbers too (except Quinten Rollins). What if there’s plenty of unexploited potential on the current roster?

Instead of developing players with undeniable potential, or making a few trades or free agent acquisitions, the Packers went ga-ga over trying to field any number of undrafted or unheralded players: Kentrell Brice, Makinton Dorleant, Marwin Evans, Demitri Goodson, LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins, Herb Waters, Jerome Whitehead…

My bet is that Pettine will keep and try to develop maybe three of them, cast off the rest, and urge that the Packers go out and get a couple of reliable NFL journeymen – who have records of staying healthy – to be the primary backups while the youngsters with potential are developing and maturing.

What if the Packers have been rushing guys who weren’t ready? Guys who went to Louisiana Tech (Brice), Northern Iowa (Dorleant), East Carolina (Hawkins), Louisiana-Monroe (Pipkins), a Gonzaga basketball player (Goodson), and a former wide receiver (Waters)?

In their first or second year as a pro, the Packers had a bunch of these guys taking over for injured players during the stretch drives to the playoffs and even in the playoffs themselves. For example, in 2016, Brice and Gunter led the team in tackles in the playoff win at Dallas. In the key game of 2017, the loss to Carolina in which Aaron Rodgers made his return, Evans, Hawkins, Pipkins, and Whitehead all got defensive snaps.

What if the Packers had stocked the cupboard with a couple of capable backup veterans, and not relied so greatly on inexperienced youngsters? It’s like the Packers are taken by surprise every year when injuries happen.

Let’s give the new defensive coordinator, and the rest of the new coaching staff some time to try to turn things around, instead of concluding that the roster is sorely lacking in talent. Let’s not be so quick to start over – as the Packers were with Hayward and Hyde.

What if Mike Pettine turns out to be all Rex Ryan says he is?

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.