Green Bay Packers: What Happened to Their Championship-Caliber Defense?

Tyler EmkenContributor IIIJanuary 17, 2012

The Packers struggled to pressure Manning on Sunday.
The Packers struggled to pressure Manning on Sunday.Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers playoff loss to the Giants seemed almost inevitable.  Over the course of the season, the Packers defense gave up piles of yardage to the opposition.  All a team needed to do was slow down the vaunted Packers offense and they had a legitimate chance of winning. 

The G-Men were able to do that on Sunday.  The defense could no longer hide behind the play of Aaron Rodgers.  The offense stepped up for them all year, but when the tables turned, the D could not deliver.

It wasn't always like this.  The Packers won a title last year partly because of how good the defense was down the stretch.  During last season's title run, the Pack were borderline dominant on defense.  The secondary created turnovers and Dom Capers' exotic blitz packages threw many a quarterback off their game.  They effectively shut down Michael Vick, Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler and held off a late game surge from Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl.  

By contrast, the Packers defense was historically bad this year.  No I am not exaggerating.  We are talking most passing yards ever given up by a NFL defense bad. We all know the names on this team. Charles Woodson.  BJ Raji.  Clay Matthews III.  How could a defense with this much talent be this bad?

Many argue that the Pack were a "bend but don't break defense."  In a sense that was true.  They tied San Francisco for creating the most turnovers in the league.  Later in the season the bending became breaking all too often.  Most of the blame has to go to the pass rush or lack thereof.

Anybody that watched the Packers this season could see their struggles in getting to the quarterback.  Eli Manning made the most of that on Sunday, surgically slicing the Packers D apart while remaining virtually untouched.  He passed for nearly 300 yards in the first half alone, capping it off with a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks to head into the locker room.

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 15:  Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants makes a 37 yard touchdown catch with time running out in the second quarter against  Charles Woodson #21 of the Green Bay Packers during their NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Fiel
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The only way the Packers ever got pressure was by blitzing, which left their secondary vulnerable to big plays.  The Packers have only one great pass-rusher in Clay Matthews.  It has been easy for Packers fans to place all of the blame on him after only recording 4.5 sacks this season. 

However, a great pass-rushing team has to have multiple threats to get to the quarterback.  The Giants have Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyoira.  The Ravens have Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.  The Packers have Clay and...who exactly? 

The loss of Cullen Jenkins to the Eagles this offseason had more of an effect on this defense than anyone would have thought.  Jenkins is far from a dominant defensive end/tackle, but recorded enough sacks that offenses had to account for him.  

The Packers believed that second-year player Mike Neal would be able to easily take over for Jenkins.  However, he has struggled with injury, recording only one sack over the last two seasons.  With the Neal experiment being pretty much a failure, there was no one else on the Pack that could get into the backfield and make plays.  Offenses could solely focus on Matthews.

This is a big issue for the Packers going into the offseason.  In the secondary, the Packers still have a lot of playmakers in Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson.  If the Packers front offices do nothing to create a pass rush to help them, the Packers defense could be in for another long season in 2012.