The Green Bay Packers had a surprising end to their season as they lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs. During that game, it became apparent that this team is only a few key players away from playing championship-caliber football again.
Green Bay Packers General Manger, Ted Thompson.
This season Clay Matthews finished with his lowest sack total (six) of his three-year career, and the team finished with 29 total sacks, which was tied for 27th in the league.
Combined, the outside linebacker unit only had 12 sacks. In the 3-4 scheme, the defense looks to its outside linebackers to garner most of the sack numbers, as it either blitzes or drops back in pass coverage every down.
In 2010, the unit was carried by Matthews, who alone had 13.5 sacks. After his breakout year, teams have discovered how to slow Matthews done: double-team him. This factor, combined with that fact that there is no bookend to help Matthews, has led to the low sack total.
Over the final three weeks of the season, the Packers got to the quaterback only one time. Against the Giants, they sacked Eli Manning once, but other than that, he had all day to pass as he easily dissected the defense.
If the Packers had another OLB, it would help this defense become great. Putting pressure on the quarterback leads to bad throws and momentum-killing sacks. I believe Thompson will look at this as a top priority during the draft.
In the 3-4, nose tackle BJ Raji is the main cog on the defensive line. However, without much talent on either side of him, it makes it difficult to play to his highest capabilitiy.
In 2010, the defensive line was a key part in the Super Bowl run. It was able to stop the run with defensive ends Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins. This past offseason Jenkins went to the Eagles via free agency, and the Packers felt the negative impact.
However, Pickett is creeping towards retirment each year, and DT Howard Green seems too lazy to be a full-time starter. CJ Wilson, Mike Neal and Jarius Wynn haven't stepped up at this point in their careers with Wynn being the lone standout thus far.
The defensive line accounted for six sacks: Raji and Wynn notched three each. Beyond the low sack totals, it seemed that this unit ran out of gas late in the season.
During the last three games, stopping the run became a problem. The line was getting no penetration while stopping no one in the backfield. It seemed every team was getting at least 2-3 yards each carry.
Thompson may have to dig deep to find the next big defensive lineman in the draft.
It seems as if Chad Clifton has played his last game in the NFL. It also seems that 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod's future is in doubt after he broke his leg in Week 15. For 13 years, Clifton has been a mainstay at the left tackle position, which has undoubtedly been the strongest position on the offensive line.
This year Clifton suffered a severe hamstring injury that put him out most of the season. It seems at this point Clifton will retire with a championship under his belt.
For most of the season the combination of Marshall Newhouse and Sherrod were enough to keep Aaron Rodgers upright, but with Sherrod breaking his leg and Newhouse's lack of consistency, it seems the Packers will need to draft the future left tackle.
However, the fact that Newhouse got some experience this season allows for the future draft pick to come in and learn the system before he has to make an impact.
Look for Thompson to wait until the later rounds to draft Clifton's possible successor.
Free safety Nick Collins had developed into one of the best defensive backs in the league, until he suffered a career threatning neck injury in Week 2. With Collins out, the Packers pass defense gave up a record amount of passing yards and proved to be the Achilles heel of the club in the playoffs.
Backup safety Charlie Peprah was thrust into the spot and never really seemed to have a good grasp on the position. Collins was known as the quarterback of the defense, calling out certain signals and audibles, and without him, there were many missed assignments and breakdowns in the secondary.
Collins will be able to tell the club if he's able to play within the next months, but to be on the safe side the Packers may want to draft his replacement. There has been talk of Charles Woodson moving to safety for a short-term fix, which would be good as he could teach the rookie the ropes.
With the future of Collins in doubt due to his neck injury, look for Thompson to choose a safety early in the draft.
Running back is a forgotten position in the Packers high-powered passing offense. However, the loss to the Giants proved that even the most lethal passing games need a run game to complement it. The past two seasons the Packers have finished 32nd and 27th in rushing.
As we all know in 2010 their run game came on strong in the playoffs during their Super Bowl run. This year, however, in one playoff game Aaron Rodgers was the leading rusher with 60 yards.
Ryan Grant's contract being up he will likely walk in free agency, and James Starks has shown he can't be counted on to be an every down back. This gives Thompson an opportunity to draft an all-purpose back who can play every down if needed. I believe this should be a top priority in the draft.
Look for Thompson to trade up in the second round and grab a solid running back.