They framed it in all different kinds of ways, but in dissecting the failure of the Green Bay Packers defense this season, it’s players and coaches kept coming back to the same thing.
By the way, do you like green bay packers hat I think they are awesome!
No pass rush.
They may not admit to it, but behind their words the message for general manager Ted Thompson was to find help this off-season. Departed end Cullen Jenkins’ name was brought up so many times Monday that you would have thought he was still playing for the team.
Thompson let the team’s best pass-rushing defensive lineman go last year despite his cost dropping dramatically in the free-agent market to a very affordable $5 million a year, which is what the Philadelphia Eagles paid to sign him.
Playing all 16 games for just the second time in four years, Jenkins had 51/2 sacks for the Eagles, exactly one-half sack fewer than the total of the entire Packers defensive line. From inside the locker room and out, the absence of a pass rush was on everybody’s mind when it came to analyzing the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense.
“It’s been evident pretty much all season,” inside linebacker Desmond Bishop said a day after the Packers’ http://www.packersproshop.com – crushing 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in a divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. “Pressure on the quarterback is probably the biggest stat that’s not written down, but is up there with turnovers on reasons for winning and losing.
“You can tell whenever you can rush four and get to the quarterback, and drop seven, you’re going to win the game for the most part.”
The way the green bay packers 3-4 defense is set up, it’s hard to find players capable of rushing the passer the way Jenkins did because most 3-4 ends are there to stop the run. The linebackers are the designated sack men most of the time, but occasionally a player like Jenkins is found who can rush and play the run.
Thompson’s priority might be to find a defensive lineman like that in the draft, but he’ll have a hard time doing it selecting 28th in the first round. With the exception of Clay Matthews, he has used late-round picks or rookie free agency to find outside pass rushers, but this year his strategy might have to change.
There will be a number of college end / outside linebackers from whom to choose in the first two rounds, but as many know Thompson doesn’t like to force things and won’t chase a position even if it is a need.
In free agency, there are some pass rushing ends who may be available like Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, Detroit’s Cliff Avril , Atlanta’s John Abraham and Arizona’s Calais Campbell. Only Campbell fits the mold of a 3-4 end, and the Cardinals are working hard to re-sign him.
At outside linebacker Houston’s Mario Williams is the prized catch if the Texans don’t put the franchise tag on him. Dallas’ Anthony Spencer is an option, and San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks could be available among others.
But expecting Thompson to pursue pricey free agents is like facing the west and expecting to see the sun rise.
“Obviously our first objective is to look at what we have and find ways to get more pressure with the guys that we have,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “When the time comes in terms of adding people, we’ll certainly address that.
“But when we come back in a couple weeks we’re going to evaluate everything from top to bottom in terms of what we think it’s going to take to getting back to playing defense the way we did the first two years around here.”
However it’s done, it’s pretty clear to all involved that something has to be done because not having a pass rush affected all areas of the defense. Whether it was the linemen trying to be something they’re not, the linebackers having to hold coverage too long or the secondary playing a style it would prefer not to, the effect was pretty damaging.
Perhaps most affected was the secondary, where cornerback Tramon Williams had his worst season as a pro, safety Charlie Peprah didn’t have the athletic ability to get to places injured Nick Collins normally did and nickelback Sam Shields played too soft.
“From a different perspective, a coaches perspective, you lose a guy like Collins, obviously, Jenkins, you lose a caliber of player (like that) your defense probably will probably take a hit,” Williams said. “The way it was done the past year, the next guy stepped in and got the job done.
“But the defense just performed the way it did. (He) Capers could have been calling the game different for those reasons.”
Williams and Shields wanted to play bump-and-run coverage, which is their strength, but Capers was unsure his pass rush could get to the quarterback and was concerned about having Peprah and inexperienced safety Morgan Burnett being pressed into man coverage.
So Capers had the secondary play a lot more zone than it had in the past to try to avoid big plays. It resulted in yards allowed by the bushel during the regular season and the only saving grace was the defense’s league-leading 31 interceptions.
Check out capslist.com for official team merch!
It also made Shields have to come up and tackle more, which proved to be a huge weakness, and kept Williams from shadowing the other team’s best receiver and wearing him down with constant shoves at the line of scrimmage. Without a pass rush, Capers did not feel comfortable having those corners go one-on-one with receivers when the quarterback had so much time to get rid of the ball.
“Pass defense is a marriage between rush and coverage, and we had issues with that,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said.
Up front, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac fought to get the most out of non-pass rushers like C.J. Wilson, Ryan Pickett and Howard Green. And he never got a pass rush from 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal, the heir apparent to Jenkins.
Neal tore cartilage in his knee at the end of training camp and was never the same. Trgovac thinks a full off-season of healing and working with the coaches will allow Neal to fulfill the potential they saw in him.
But counting on Neal to come back strong after an injury-filled season would be making the same mistake twice. Thompson thought Neal would step into Jenkins’ shoes after missing most of ’10 with a torn rotator cuff.
Trgovac plans to stress the transition from playing run first to rushing the passer that 3-4 linemen must do to be effective. He said younger players have a much harder time understanding how to do that.
“We have to go way beyond our maturity level,” Trgovac said of players like Wilson, Neal and Jarius Wynn. “That’s where Cullen, who has seven or eight years in the league, can do that. These guys are younger guys. That’s what we need to work on most.”