In 2010-11 the Packers had key defenders that made plays during the season and throughout their title run through the playoffs. Woodson, Collins, Bishop and Jenkins would drop from the Packer roster in subsequent years and the Packers had trouble replacing those key starters.
Collins in particular, sustaining a career ending neck injury during their second game of the next season took a toll that proved too much for a grief stricken 2011-12 playoff team. Dealing from the death of the son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s son, the defense could muster only one sack of Eli Manning. Tramon Williams and Charlie Peprah led the team in tackles, but had no interceptions or passes defensed. Woodson’s stats were nearly nonexistent, one pass defensed combined with no tackles.
Eli Manning passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers, Grant and Kuhn all fumbled and the game was a lopsided embarrassment for a 15-1 regular season team.
Since that playoff loss the Packers have invested in the defense with high draft picks. Since 2018 Gutekunst has drafted defense with seven of his top ten draft picks in his five drafts. His only first round offensive pick was for a backup quarterback.
2022 will answer the title question, will the focus on defense pay off? This year’s draft could see big contributions from their newest linebacker and defensive tackle. On paper, the defense has a a stronger unit than last year’s team which ranked in the top ten in the NFL. They will also be in the second year of Joe Barry’s defensive scheme which should bring early positive results.
The NFL has seen historically superior defenses in Baltimore and Denver bring the Lombardi Trophy home. The mortgage Gutekunst is paying interest on is a lack of seasoned pass catchers. The loss of Davante Adams and MVS adds to the trepidation of Allen Lazard’s refusing to sign his RFA tender. If Lazard forces the Packers into a corner, and he will never have as much leverage as he has now, the offense could ultimately line up Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and the rookie picks week one.
While FA’s Juwann Winfree and Malik Taylor share the room with 2021 third rounder Amari Rodgers, none of them have shown game changing potential. The loss of Adams may be due to Gutekunst’s “disrespect” of Adams, which is NFL talk for underestimating the financial market for receivers. The Packers made Adams play in 2021 for 18 million and he decided to go home. To Northern California.
Not part of the Gutekunst plan, but a reality that is now critical due to Adam’s passing on what is claimed to be the Packers final favorable offer. Perhaps Adams saw the writing on the wall. Aaron Rodgers seasons are limited, perhaps he retires next year if he wins another Lombardi trophy. Adams will need at least three more years of good stats to ensure a trip to Canton. Maybe he was not impressed with Jordan Love’s potential. In any event the 2022 season may rest on two rookies from the best college defense of 2020 and the health of players Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, De’Vondre Campbell and Rashan Gary. Let’s hope the rookies on both sides of the football learn quickly.