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Is Green Bay About to Become a Defensive Juggernaut?

Mike Daniels

Even if the Packers’ passing prowess continues on its slow but steady descent, my prior post (Packers Are Undergoing a Seismic Adjustment Period, 4/29) theorized that a new focus on the run game could still result in a potent offense overall. Another scenario would be: a defense that is so dominant it could compensate for a weakening pass attack.

If anyone tries to guarantee the Packers’ defense is going to be awesome in 2019, they are just guessing. There are too many unknowns and variables out there. But changes made since the end of last season bode very well for a much stouter defense in Mike Pettine’s second year as defensive coordinator.

The most glaring change is that the Packers will have two starting edge rushers and one or two starting safeties who weren’t even on the team last December. That’s huge – arguably the primarily holes in last year’s defense have been filled – and cemented over – for years to come.

A second reason for believing in this reconstituted defense is that so many young (and mostly high-draft) guys should be much improved after another year of play in the NFL. CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, and LB Oren Burks and are beginning their second year; CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, and DT Montravius Adams are entering Year 3.

Defensive tackle Kenny Clark (only 23), LB Blake Martinez, LB Kyler Fackrell, and DE Dean Lowry are entering Year 4 – contract years for most. Edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, as well as safety Adrian Amos should be reaching full maturity in their fifth years.

Mike Daniels

Kirk Cousins (8) gets pressure from Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels (76) in the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Get this: the only expected defensive starter who has more than four years of NFL wear and tear is Mike Daniels. I hadn’t realized just how thoroughly the front office has reconstituted the Pack’s defense.

Not already mentioned are the following recent defensive draftees, some of whom will win spots on the roster: DT Kingsley Keke (Rd. 5), CB Ka’Dar Hollman (Rd. 6), and LB Ty Summers (Rd. 7).

It’s a near-total makeover. The Packers 2019 defense: the young and the restless!

The purges have been massive, including lots of undrafted or low-potential players who the Packers devoted much time to, without success, including: Quinton Rollins, Kentrell Brice, Antonio Morrison, Jermaine Whitehead, Vince Biegel, Donatello Brown, Marwin Evans, LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins, Lenzi Pipkins, and Joe Thomas.

Then there’s the guys who were determined to have passed their expiration dates, including: Clay Matthews, Morgan Burnett, Nick Perry, Jake Ryan, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Ahmad Brooks, Quinton Dial, and Ricky Jean-Francois.

That’s twenty defensive players who were more than nominal members of the team in either 2017 or 2018.

Packers Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine

Mike Pettine talks with a staff member during Training Camp at Ray Nitschke Field. Jim Matthews/Green Bay Press-Gazette via USA TODAY Sports

Now, add to this that returning defenders have had a year to adjust to Pettine’s schemes and style. Also the players acquired in the last two years can be said to have been selected specifically to excel in Pettine’s defense.

The makings are there to form the best defense the Packers have put on the field since 2010, when they finished at fifth overall in the league. You probably recall how that unit finished off the post-season.

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Rob Born

Someone else said it first but I popularized it: “Athleticism is important in athletic pursuits.” It took three years, but the Packers finally listened. My new mantra: “Trading down is fine, but never trade up.”

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22 Comments

  1. Andy Peth May 1, 2019

    If the O-Line progresses, we won’t see a passing game “descent” at all. As I keep pointing out, our WR position is the most stacked it’s been in many years.

    Quit being so impatient with our young receivers. Remember, it took Davante a couple years to blossom, and our best non-Davante receivers are entering Year 2.

    MVS, ESB, Kumerow (Year 3), and Moore are 4 guys with high potential. That potential will convert to production for at least 2 of them.

    So relax! No “descent” at all! We have some actual athletes at receiver…finally!

    Reply
    1. MeccaGPG May 1, 2019

      WR shouldn’t be the focal point when it comes to Packers 2019 offense success. It seems Lafleur will look at favoring zone run blocking with 2 TEs and its rushing attack. That should open WRs to battle on the outside (which Rodgers always seems to trust those throws anyways). One of our TEs hopefully is a short yardage machine, especially idk the guy the paid $10mil/year for his name at this point.
      Since this article is about the defense, it’s been a bend not break side of the ball for 9 years now. Lets pump the brakes until they put together 4 quarters of football where it felt confident on getting a 3rd down stop when it mattered. They did make some damn good moves trying to right this defensive ship so have to give a Rodgers/Jordy thumbs up fist bump there.

  2. Ron Wlowich May 1, 2019

    If the offensive line gives Aron some time he can pick apart any defense

    Reply
  3. Cheese May 1, 2019

    “If anyone tries to guarantee the Packers’ defense is going to be awesome in 2019, they are just guessing. There are too many unknowns and variables out there.”

    Yes. There is potential if things come together but there are a lot of hypotheticals. Proof is my topic of choice except we wont get any of that until the season starts.

    “I hadn’t realized just how thoroughly the front office has reconstituted the Pack’s defense.”

    The front office has been spending top draft picks on defense for many years. It’s like a bottomless pit. Eventually they’re gonna have to take some playmakers on offense.

    Reply
  4. Deepsky May 1, 2019

    I don’t think we can predict anything as Gutekunst clearly is doing things differently from his predecessors.

    He seems to value skills, athleticism and combine results, not so much college stats, and ignores injuries. Jaire Alexander for instance, didn’t have a lot of interceptions, but was fast, with an injury history. Rashan Gary is almost the exact same kind of pick.

    In free agency, Gutekunst seems to have a philosophy of taking rising mid level players. Kind of like Wolf taking Santana Dotson in the early 90s. Dotson was never a Pro Bowler with the Packers, but he was a good solid player. Not sure how this is going to play out with the free agent acquisitions of the Smiths and Amos.

    It’s hard to tell how all this will result in a defensive juggernaut.

    Reply
    1. Kato May 1, 2019

      I don’t understand the Amos signing. Spending that money on a strong safety is dumb

      1. Jason Parker May 1, 2019

        PFF is claiming it was a value deal: https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-adrian-amos-the-best-value-deal-of-free-agency-so-far

        Maybe in general, but I agree that price was steep for the Packers’ pockets.

    2. Skinny May 1, 2019

      Its not dumb when your starting safeties are an old CB and an undrafted FA.

  5. Kato May 1, 2019

    I am cautiously optimistic at best about the defense. It does look pretty solid on paper. But as I have learned, to some heartache, don’t count on anything. Or, everyone has a plan until they are punched in the mouth. Assuming the defense doesn’t suffer a plethora of injuries, someone is losing their jobs if they aren’t top 10

    Reply
    1. Cheesemaker May 1, 2019

      ^^^This

      When I first saw the article headline, I thought “Wow, please slow your roll.” From dumpster fire to juggernaut…

      On paper I see the reason for hope, but until they start playing real games that’s all it is. With that kind of unbridled enthusiasm/optimism, we might as well be Vikings fans.

    2. Ferris May 1, 2019

      Dumpster fire is right on Cheese. At the least the attempt to upgrade put out the fire.. for now…but anyone can toss in a butt and it goes up again.

    3. Cheese May 1, 2019

      I mentioned nothing about a dumpster fire although I would not disagree with that comment. That would be the gentleman by the name of Cheesemaker who I suspect may be my real father.

    4. Very good point Cheesemaker.

    5. Ferris May 1, 2019

      My apologies Cheese, I took it upon myself to abbreviate Cheesemaker’s name and refer to him/her by your name. How irresponsible of me. Your father used dumpster fire in a sentence in a way that would make the spelling bee kids proud.

  6. Howard May 1, 2019

    The Packers 2010 defense was actually 1st in points allowed per play and that is the stat I would use to determine how well a defense is performing. Same goes for the offense in points made per play. When you combine those two rankings and then compare them with the rest of the league you can come close to determining playoff and Super Bowl teams.
    For example in 2010 The Pack was 4th on offense in points per play (PPP) and 1st on defense. The combined rankings produced a 1st in the league ranking. Guess who was #2, NE, but they were upset in the playoffs by I believe the Jets. #3 was the Steelers.
    In 2014 the Packers D was 12th in PPP and the O was 1st for a league average ranking of 3rd. Guess who was #2 in overall ranking, NE. Guess who was #1,The Seahawks. Who played in the Super Bowl?
    In 2016, the last time the Packers made the playoffs the Packers PPP average put them at 13th in the league, with a #2 ranking on offense, but a dismal #27 on defense. The Packers probably should not have made the playoffs that year, and they had a good draw in the Giants who were ranked 16th. The #2 team was the Cowboys, but you find that first time playoff QBs don’t usually fair well in their first outing, and it doesn’t help if they sit out the first playoff week on a bye. Guess who was # 1 that year, NE. Guess who was #3, Atlanta. Who played in the SB?
    In 2017 the team that ranked #1 in overall combined PPP was the Eagles and # 2 was the Patriots. Guess who played in the SB.
    In 2018 the Rams were ranked 10th in combined PPP and that was because the Rams were ranked 3rd in offense, but were ranked 24th on defense. The Rams during the year, except the SB gave up a lot of big scoring plays on defense. The Patriots were ranked 3rd overall with a ranking of 8th on offense and 5th on defense. NE was a solid top 10 team in all phases but not the best in any phase.
    The Packers need to improve the defense and offense to be a total team. Add in STs and that is what it takes. A Solid team in all three phases.
    Last year the Packers were 16th in PPP on offense up slightly from 2017 at 20th. The Packer defense was at 21st in PPP in 2018 up from a bottom of the barrel 28th in 2017.
    The Packers need to drastically improve both sides of the ball in PPP in order to assist the other side of the ball to improve. One side of the ball, Or STs showing poorly can impact the other phases of the game in a negative way as it relates to PPP.

    Reply
    1. Cheese May 1, 2019

      Excellent post Howard.

    2. Howard May 1, 2019

      Thanks Cheese, that is one of the many reasons your the #1 commentor. :-).
      One thing that should concern Packers fans is the Bears were #1 overall in combined PPP last year. The first year playoff QB issue hurt them, plus the tipped field goal. The Bears last year were #6 in PPP on offense up from 25th the year before. That was a healthy jump. The Bears defense was #1 in PPP in 2018 up from #10 the year before. Hopefully the loss of Fangino and the addition of Dix hurts the bears defense, and a year of film review can find ways to slow down the Bears offense. The Bears are a good example of a defense that when providing an offense with short fields and good field position can help the offenses PPP ranking.
      I want to add something about the Vikings. The Vikings last year were #13 in combined PPP. That should put a team just outside the playoffs and that is what occurred with the Vikings. The Vikings were the only team in the division that dropped in PPP on both sides of the ball. The Vikings in 2017 were 13th on offense and 3rd on defense. In 2018 the Vikings dropped to 18th on offense and 10th on defense. The Vikings are a good example of how an offense that throws the ball to much can impact a defense, although the Vikings defense is aging.

  7. Ferris May 1, 2019

    No Brice, no Ha’Sean at the safety positions, improvement of 1000% there. IF and it’s a big IF…. King can play more than 3 games CB could be OK. FA Smith signings look good, but we’ll see. Perry gone, that is a 500% improvement. Matthews was great in his prime but it was time to move on. They actually may be able to create pressure and get off the field from time to time. Or everyone pulls a hamstring and a groin and it’s back to the dumpster fire.

    Reply
  8. Zee McDee May 1, 2019

    I’m not saying juggernaut but I would say top 15 conservatively top 10 realistically and top 5 optimistically. If they’re less than 15th ranked defense I’ll be shocked. Our front 7 is flat out scary at this point. Our secondary is loaded with talent. Weakest spot is inside linebacker… I really wish they would grab Zac Brown who is somehow still a FA. Unless he wants an arm and a leg it would be a great pickup and perfect compliment to Blake Martinez.

    Reply
  9. Lee Fuller May 1, 2019

    What about Tramon Williams? He will make the roster and has 11+ years of experience.

    Reply
  10. Bob May 1, 2019

    We have arrived at a point in time where our defense can set up our offense with great field position. Allowing AR to operate with great field position, on many occasions, is like turning out the lights, blindfolding the people and allowing Houdini to walk out of the mint with the gold at midnight.

    Reply
    1. KazooPackFan May 4, 2019

      Now this is an entertaining post, whether you agree with the premise or not. Well done.

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