Green Bay Packers: What We Learned from Each Defensive Starter in 2011
The Green Bay Packers' defense in 2011 was, historically, one of the worst defenses of all time.
Okay, we got that out of the way.
The Packers overall had a fine year in 2011, but their defense definitely needs some work this offseason. They can draft a pass-rushing OLB and sign a DE, or vice versa, but they need to do something. If they go into 2012 with their defense the way it currently is, they could miss the playoffs.
Don't believe me?
Here are things we've learned from every defensive starter in 2011.
Morgan Burnett: He's a Good Sidekick
Looking at this picture reminds me of the good old days. The days from Weeks 1 and 2 when Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins were paired up in the Packers' defensive backfield. Now, it's Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett.
I guess you never know what you have until you lose it.
After the way Burnett played in Weeks 1 and 2, many Packer fans were talking Pro Bowl for the young safety. I was talking DPOTY, but I like to dream. The truth is that Burnett was a great player when he had Nick Collins with him on defense. When he was paired up with Charlie Peprah, however, he became the better safety, and he didn't look as good because he's just not there yet in his development.
Hopefully Nick Collins can return for 2012 because without him, we may never see again the All-Pro version of Burnett we saw in early 2011.
Charlie Peprah: He's Still a Good Backup
Charlie Peprah was not very good for the Packers last year. He was poor in coverage and missed some tackles, and just looking at him on the TV made me cringe (I don't know why).
However, all Peprah is supposed to do is back up at the safety position and play some special teams. Two years in a row now, Peprah has been placed into the starting lineup for the majority of a season due to injury. In 2010, Peprah was solid. Last year, he was pretty bad.
That's just how it went for Green Bay last year.
Peprah is still a good backup, though. He's nowhere near as bad as Jarrett Bush circa 2009. He's not a player you're going to want to have starting for you in training camp, but if someone goes down, then you put in Peprah and hope for the best. You can still get some good plays out of him, maybe even a few good games, so he's always a good guy to have on the roster.
No matter how bad he played at times last year, I still learned that he is a good backup at the safety position.
Charles Woodson: He's Still One of the Best Defenders in the NFL
A lot of people would say here that Woodson has lost a step, or he's getting older, or he's slowing down due to injury and he'll never be the same.
Haven't we all known that since 2009, though?
We have, and Woodson still plays at an elite level on defense. Last year Woodson missed a lot of tackles that he usually makes, and we just have to learn to accept that with him now. However, he still makes a ton of plays for us and leads our defense in every way imaginable.
Just because he's listed as a CB doesn't mean I have to judge him on his coverage skills. He's not poor in coverage, just not what he once was. He still has an aptitude for the ball and the end zone and still changes games with a turnover, tackle or sack. He's still a coach on the field for Green Bay.
It's not his fault that everyone else sucked on defense for the Packers. He did the best he could, and as long as he's able to, he'll be out there for the Packers looking for ring number two.
Tramon Williams: One-Year Wonder?
To answer my own question from the title of this slide, no. He's not a one-year wonder.
I noticed how talented and good Williams was in 2008. He played well in 2008 and 2009 before becoming a household name in 2010. Was he a three-year wonder, though?
Williams blew last year for the Packers, and frankly, I don't know why. The Packers need to get some pass rush this offseason or else no one will look good in the Packers' backfield, but that doesn't excuse Williams' play last year.
Receivers were wide open right when the quarterback said "hut" every down last year. C'mon, Tramon, you need to be able to cover a guy for at least a half a second.
While I have faith that Tramon can improve next year and return to his old form, it's sad that I have to believe when I see it.
Howard Green: ... Wait, Who?
When I say defensive starters, this is a position where it gets hard to really learn anything about the starter.
Because Howard Green started the most games last year for the Packers at DE opposite Ryan Pickett with five.
Yet he's the guy we're talking about at the end of the season in this article.
Howard Green really isn't a good player, and the Packers better hope they can find a DE in the offseason this year to finally replace Cullen Jenkins. Mike Neal will be given an opportunity to make an impact next year, as well he should, but Green Bay really can't rely on him because he kind of blows too.
Hopefully Howard Green isn't the guy we're talking about in 2013.
B.J. Raji: He's Overrated
B.J. Raji was the proud recipient of a Pro Bowl nod last year for the Packers.
Considering he played terribly all year, I'd say we all should be proud for Raji because it's not easy for a defensive lineman to steal accolades that don't belong to him.
On a serious note, Raji didn't have a good year in 2011, and yet he still was talked about as one of the better nose tackles in the league. He's simply overrated, and until he actually becomes a good player, he always will be.
He didn't make a huge impact last year in either run support or pass rush (he can rush the passer?), and he really hasn't lived up to the name he made for himself in 2010.
Once he returned that pick for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game (which I will always remember—that was a great play, Raji), I knew he would get more attention than his play deserved. But a Pro Bowl invitation in 2011? That's just wrong.
He still has a ton of talent and can bounce back next year, but even if he doesn't, he'll probably be talked about as if he did.
Ryan Pickett: He's Big and Fat, and He Can Still Do His Job
Ryan Pickett is not asked to do too much, especially at his age. He is supposed to clog holes and take up space so our rush linebackers can do all the work. At that, he still does a pretty good job.
The problem is that the Packers have scrubs at the DE opposite Pickett. What the Packers need is a good DE who can also rush the passer.
Pickett is not a pass-rushing DE, but he works in our defense if Raji is playing like he should and our other DE is actually a good player. That's why we were able to win the Super Bowl in 2010—because Cullen Jenkins was on our defensive line.
Pickett's never going to become a pass-rushing defensive end, but he is a very good player when the proper pieces are around him. He's 32 years old, so he may not have a lot of years left. The Packers should be looking to find pieces to put around him as soon as possible.
Erik Walden: He Absolutely Sucks
<-------- Just look at his face. Look at his face for five seconds.
I think we've all learned enough from Erik Walden.
Desmond Bishop: He Is a Stud
Bishop probably would have made the Pro Bowl last year if he hadn't missed some time due to injury. If he had made it, it would have been well earned because he had a great year.
Bishop is still young and should be one of our better linebackers for a long time to come. He is a great tackler, and he can even rush the passer when called upon. He is just an all-around linebacker, and the Packers are very lucky to have him.
If Raji becomes a good player again, then that will make Bishop's job so much easier. The fact that he was able to get it done early in the season the way he did (although Raji's best games were early in 2011) is a testament to how good he really is. Look for Bishop to make the Pro Bowl in 2012 if he stays healthy.
A.J. Hawk: He's Still Not Awful
Is that what it's come to now? At least Hawk isn't terrible? That's our saving grace?
We could have drafted Haloti Ngata, Tamba Hali or Vernon Davis.....
Hey, at least Hawk doesn't blow, right?
Hawk is still a solid linebacker, but he is severely overpaid, and I think every Packer fan would love to see him leave. He's not a bad player to have around a defense, but he's just not a good player to have around, so we might as well trade or cut him.
He had an average 2011 season, but at least that's All Pro worthy compared to the rest of our defense.
Clay Matthews: He Needs Some Help
Clay Matthews cannot get it done all by himself, as he proved last year. He needs some help rushing the passer because he cannot continue to be double- and triple-teamed and expect to get to the quarterback.
Whether it's a pass-rushing OLB or a pass-rushing DE, the Packers need to add a pass-rusher somewhere this offseason. Clay Matthews is still a great player and a ferocious pass-rusher, but he needs to be able to take advantage of single blocks or let other Packers do so.
Matthews made the Pro Bowl in 2011, and I don't think it was undeserved. He made a lot of big plays in 2011, and he still got to the quarterback quite a few times. They didn't always result in sacks, but he did get in the backfield.
However, he didn't get there nearly as much as he usually does. We didn't learn that he was overrated or a bad player, just that he needs help on this defense and that he can't be a one-man show.