Packer fans may find this hard to believe and may think I’m full of it — but the Green Bay Packers are building a championship caliber defense and despite struggles in recent years, it’s going to come to fruition in 2014.
That may seem like a bold statement to make after the Packers finished 24th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed last season, while also forcing just 22 turnovers, which ranked 21st in the league.
However, despite it’s performance last season, the Packers defense has the pieces in place to take a huge step forward. With the development of some young talent and a few pieces being added in the draft, the Green Bay defense will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Some of you may think I am crazy and no this isn’t solely because Packers general manager Ted Thompson went out and signed Julius Peppers this offseason, although adding a pro-bowl caliber pass rusher certainly helps.
It’s about more than just Peppers, in fact it’s about a lot more than him.
As we all know, the Packers build their team mostly through a draft and development philosophy. Over the past two seasons, the team has invested heavily in the draft on the defensive side of the ball without seeing lots of dividends — or so it seems.
In reality, the Packers have added some very solid players over the past two drafts and as those players start to mature, their continued development should finally payoff.
Some of the names I’m referring to are Mike Daniels, Casey Hayward, Nick Perry, Micah Hyde, Datone Jones and Josh Boyd. All of these players are ones I expect to make a big jump in 2014.
Perry, the Packers 2012 first-round pick, has been hampered by injuries. In two seasons, he has played in just 17 games and started 11.
Yet, when he’s been on the field, he’s been effective, registering six sacks, three forced fumbles and 37 tackles. He is stout holding the point of attack in the run game and has enough pass rush skills to be a solid player, he simply needs to stay healthy.
Hayward is in a similar boat, he was outstanding in 2012 then missed almost the entire 2013 season due to injury. But after intercepting six passes and breaking up 21 as a rookie, there is reason to believe he can return to his playmaking ways.
Daniels, a fourth-round pick in 2012, has already begun establishing himself as one of the top interior pass rushers in the game with 6.5 sacks last season and should only continue to improve, particularly with the likes of Peppers, Clay Matthews, Perry and Mike Neal rushing beside him.
Then there’s Hyde, who impressed as a corner last season and should see time at safety this year – and finally Jones, the Packers 2013 first-round pick, who notched only 3.5 sacks last season but after battling injuries and learning a new scheme, should be vastly improved.
The bottom line is that in the NFL great defenses generally have three things in common; they can stop the run, rush the passer and cover.
Believe it or not, the Packers have the ability to be great in all three of those areas.
For starters, when talking about pass rushers and corners, there are few teams in the NFL that can compare with the depth of talent that Green Bay possess.
At corner, the Packers are as deep as anyone in the NFL with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Hayward, Hyde and Davon House.
In terms of quality pass rushers Green Bay is just as talented with Matthews, Peppers, Neal, Perry, Daniels, Jones and B.J. Raji. The thing that makes the pass rush even more dangerous is the versatility.
There are four players; Matthews, Perry, Peppers and Neal that can rush from the outside and have proven successful at it.
Neal has also shown he can excel as an interior rusher along with Daniels and Raji, who also posted 6.5 sacks when he was rushing the quarterback more frequently in 2010.
Then there’s Jones, who is a solid interior pass rusher and should see some opportunities to rush from the elephant spot, which is more akin to a defensive end.
This versatility and depth will give Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers the ability to be very multiple with his fronts. He will also have the flexibility that allows him to move players around to find the best match ups and apply the most pressure to the offense.
Depth also means players can be rotated in and out, so Green Bay always has fresh pass rushers on the field.
There is no question that talent still needs to be added, particularly at safety an inside linebacker. This will help the Packers improve both their run and pass defense but the fact of the matter is, with another piece or two in place, Green Bay’s defense could be elite in 2014.