Packers Hot Stove: Defense

The Packers enter another offseason without a 5th Super Bowl.  As opposed to agonizing collapses of playoffs past, this time GB got crushed @Atlanta in the NFC Championship game.  Payback for the General Sherman routine the Packers did en route to the Super Bowl 45 title.  Anything short of a Super Bowl is usually deemed a failure.  The whole wasting #12’s prime thing.  The positive case is that a 4-6 team rallied and won 8 straight to reaching the NFC Championship before it all went to hell.

Coaching

The annual ritual of calling for DC Dom Capers to be fired started by halftime of the NFC Championship game.  I get the temptation but unless we can pull Dave Aranda from LSU I’m not sure the cause for discharge is as obvious as it may appear to others. I would have gladly dumped Capers after Vic Fangio was on the market following the regime change in SF.  Unfortunately, GB didn’t act and worse yet, he went to Chicago. I’m just not convinced there is an obvious upgrade out there.  And I’m certainly not impressed with any particular piece of the GB D to suggest promoting from within.  So the question then really becomes if there is a position coach on one of the elite D in the league we can poach.  But really, I just want Dave Aranda and I want Ted Thompson to move aggressively on Aranda.  Capers makes around $2 million annually and Aranda isn’t that far off that mark at LSU.

I’d note the following about GB’s playoff failures since Super Bowl 45:

2012: NYG loss, hardly the D best day but drops and turnovers really kill us

2013; D is horrible as Kapernick runs wild over GB

2014: lose on a last second FG by SF I think 23-20.   Hyde drops an INT and Capers has the right blitz called on 3rd & long but Bush loses contain and Kaep escapes to set up the FG.

2015: Seattle meltdown in which Seattle’s O scored 15 points in regulation.

2016: Arizona OT loss where D allows 20 points in regulation and Sam Shields drops a pair of redzone INT.

2017: D is horrible as Atlanta cuts our heart out

On that list, I say 2013 and 2017 are primarily on the D.  It’s not like the offense pulled its weight against Atlanta this year but in the end it would not have mattered.

Capers can’t control injuries and the final personnel decisions rest with Ted Thompson.  Over the last several seasons, TT has delivered Micah Hyde (5th) and Mike Daniels (4th) and HHCD (1st) for Capers to work with.  But Nick Perry was drafted 1st in 2012 and it wasn’t until this year he showed why.  He promptly then broke his hand.  Datone Jones was 1st in 2013 and still hasn’t found his groove.  Damarious Randall (1st) and Quintent Rollins (2nd) looked like solid pieces in their rookie seasons.  Not so much this year.  It wasn’t Capers decision to burn a 3rd rounder on Khyri Thornton or trade up in the 2nd for Jerel Worthy. The GM’s job is to get talent and the coaches job to maximize it.  That’s hard for the coach when you miss on high round picks or guys are on the injury report.  Clay Matthews can’t seem to stay healthy anymore and that weakens the D.  I’m not sure if Capers or TT or both devalue the ILB position but GB has gotten the return you’d expect for spending 3 4th round picks at ILB.  Jake Ryan is just not athletic enough to limit gains on the ground or drop in coverage.  Blake Martinez is a better athlete.  Both are young  but thus far GB gets nothing more than serviceable at the position.  Since neither can cover the TE that puts a lot on Micah Hyde to match up.

Below are some stats about the Green Bay D starting in 2010 (Super Bowl year).  This is just the regular season so as to compare us to the entire NFL.

Packer Season Defensive Statistics (NFL Rank)

Pts/G Rushing
Yds/G
Passing
Yds/G
Sacks Completion
%
2010 15 (2nd) 114.9 (18th) 194 (5th) 47 (2nd) 56.2 (4th)
2011 22.4 (19th) 111.8 (14th) 300 (32nd) 29 (27th) 61.2 (19th)
2012 21 (11th) 118.5 (17th) 218 (11th) 47 (4th) 55.1 (4th)
2013 26.8 (24th) 125 (25th) 247 (24th) 44 (8th) 61.6 (20th)
2014 21.8 (13th) 119.9 (23rd) 226 (10th) 41 (9th) 59 (7th)
2015 20.2 (12th) 119.1 (21st) 228 (6th) 43 (7th) 58.3 (4th)
2016 24.3 (21st) 94.7 (8th) 269.3 (31st) 35 (15th) 64.8 (25th)
Avg NFL Rank #14.6 #18 #17 #10.3 #11.9

*GB has been an average D for the last 7 seasons.  Above average in terms of sacks and completion % allowed but gives up a lot of yards.  In the end, the stat that matters most, PPG, pretty much in the middle.  The question for the franchise, is do you stay with stable mediocrity? or do you take a chance on a rising position coach somewhere and hope he vaults you into the Top 10?

Roster from Sportrac

DEFENSIVE LINE:

GB locked up stud Mike Daniels until 2020.  Nobody on the team matches his intensity and effort and he does his job well.  If he had better LB behind him he’d look even better.  Rookie Kenny Clark showed some promise late on.  Both Clark and Daniels have wrestling backgrounds and are on the shorter side for DL.  But GB doesn’t care because they both understand leverage thanks to prep wrestling.  GB had basically the entire menu of a deep and talented DT class at their choosing in Round 1 and selected Clark.  Letroy Guion is the other DT and is one strike away from a serious suspension.  Guion is under contract for the next 2 seasons.   Rookie Dean Lowry has shown good energy in limited snaps rushing the passer.  Still, other than Daniels, there is nobody you have to game plan for yet.  Lets give Clark and Lwory a couple years.  Clark after all just turned 21 in October.  Christian Ringo is an interesting project, supposedly similar to Daniels but hasn’t got much use yet.  He is a RFA and I would expect him back.  Of course a great talent is welcome, but I would be surprised to see GB spend much draft capital or dip into FA at all for the DL.

LINEBACKER:

As discussed above, the ILB for GB are a whole lot of nothing.  It was awesome to sucker punchthe Chicago Bears and steal the dreadful NFC North in 2013 at the death.  But it cost us a choice between Ryan Shazier or CJ Mosley at ILB either of whom could have provided some stability inside for the next decade.  As it stands, Ryan and Martinez are your meh ILB for the foreseeable future.  Joe Thomas battled gamely with back issues this season but he’s more of a coverage LB than run defender.  Thomas is a RFA and I expect him to be back.  Ryan is signed until 2019 and Martinez to 2020.  This year’s draft has 2 decent LBs that will go in the first round.  Reuben Foster, the latest missile ILB from Alabama.  He won’t get past Cincy at #9.  Zach Cunningham from Vandy is an intriguing athlete.  He won’t last to #29 but could be someone GB could reasonably pay a price to move up and draft.   Hassan Reddick from Temple got a lot of praise during Senior Bowl week and he could sneak into the 1st round given his ability to play ILB or OLB and even a little DE.  The other option of course is to move Clay inside.  The argument there is that the effective Wins Above Replacement is higher for Clay inside than outside.  Clay hits FA in 2019 and has an insane $15M cap hit next season.  He’ll need to play a full season for that kind of money.  The bigger question mark is outside.  Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones (slimmed down) are all UFA.  Jayrone Elliott is a RFA and is a special teams leader and his high motor warrants him coming back.  Peppers either retires or goes somewhere else.  I can’t imagine there is much of a market for Jones so I think he’ll have a short-term deal and return to GB.  Nick Perry could command some serious money given his well-timed best season of his career.  I would like to see Perry back and GB has the cap room to do it.  But there are some bad teams with even more money and he could have priced himself out of GB with this season.  Rookie Kyler Fackrell gets an incomplete grade from me but is in line for a longer look with Peppers gone.  I want upgrades at ILB of course but am not optimistic about finding one in the draft.  You can never have too many edge rushers and this is a good draft for it.

SECONDARY

The secondary was a disaster this season in a weird way since the S positions with HHCD and Burnett looks stable.  So after promising rookie seasons Rollins and Randall fell apart.  Hopefully it was injuries.  Because I saw a lot of plays where Randall was not hustling and showed not even a minimal interest in tackling.

LaDarius Gunter is big and physical but he went undrafted because he is slow and it showed.  Poor guy had to matchup with Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones in the playoffs.  Doesn’t get much tougher than that.  And he was not really equal to the task.  A great secondary helps your pass rush.  A great pass rush improves your secondary.  Sam Shields concussion history early in the season didn’t help the cause.    The Packers wisely released Sam Shields saving $9M off the cap but leaving a gaping hole at CB. While Casey Hayward tailed off from his strong rookie season, he had a great season in San Diego which coupled with injuries to Shields, Randall, Rollins, meant TT looked terrible.  But I get his thinking.  Randall and Rollins go 1-2, knowing you invested a lot in Shields and weren’t going to afford to keep Hayward.  In fact, Randall’s progression beat out Hayward for the starting CB job outside during the 2015 season.  But with significant regression from Randall and Rollins and Shields gone in Week 1, the cupboard was bare. I don’t see Randall going from promising to starter to bust in a season.  There is no question GB has to spend an early pick at CB.    This is an insanely deep CB class and GB might be able to wait until Round 2 to grab a CB.  Burnett is an UFA in 2018 and HHCD in 2019 and both are worthy of extensions.  I would expect GB to move to lock up Burnett before the season or perhaps early in the season like they did in the past with Daniels and Bahktiari.  Guys like Marwin Evans and Kentrell Brice are nice finds to contribute on special teams and fill in if needed on D.  The big name to resign is Micah Hyde who proved his value during the winning streak.  The goal line PD saved the day @Chicago and his read and INT on the Dallas screen really should have put that game away.   Hyde has to be a priority signing given his ability to lineup all over the formation.

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