Green Bay Packers: Primary Needs Heading into the NFL Draft
Coming fresh off a Super Bowl, the Packers were poised as a team that had the ability to make a second consecutive championship run.
They did not disappoint by finishing with a regular season record of 15-1.
But, the New York Giants' pass rush proved too much for the high powered Packers offense to handle, falling 37-20 in Lambeau Field, abruptly ending their chance at any kind of Super Bowl repeat.
Now, it's back to the drawing board for general manager Ted Thompson, who will look to correct a defense that ranked 32nd in the league and failed to pressure the quarterback when teams neutralized Clay Matthews with double and triple-teams.
If the Packers want to get back to the Super Bowl, they must address several key issues on both offense and defense.
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After the Packers let defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins walk in free agency, the defensive line took several steps back in terms of pass rush production, failing to open holes or produce any kind of push against opposing offensive lines.
If the Packers want to get their explosive step on defense back, they must start by winning the battle in the trenches.
That means addressing the need for a quality defense linemen to pair up with B.J. Raji to augment the pass rush and help open holes for Green Bay's linebackers.
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In three seasons on the NFL, Clay Matthews III has shown and proven his "bloodline" title, taking after his father and uncle, who were both well-known NFL linebackers.
But, teams soon learned one thing—if Matthews is double or triple-teamed, the Packers have no other linebackers to provide the pass rush.
This proved to be correct, as teams held Matthews to barely over six sacks, and the Packers never settled on another outside linebacker opposite Matthews, using a revolving door of Erik Walden, Brad Jones and Frank Zombo, while also holding on to two other untested and undrafted rookies in Vic So'to and Jamari Lattimore.
The Packers have ignored this for two seasons now, but it is time to get a true pass rusher on the other side to take pressure off of Matthews and help revive a nonexistent pass rush for a 32nd-ranked defense.
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Unfortunately for the Packers, safety may become a big need if Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins is unable to continue playing after receiving a bad neck injury early in the season.
He was lost for the entire season and the Packers missed his coverage ability in the deep center field, which had to be held by Morgan Burnett, who fared better at the strong safety position.
Charlie Peprah played in relief, but was inconsistent in extended playing time.
But, if the worst-case scenario happens and Collins is forced to discontinue his NFL career, the Packers must address safety in either the draft or free agency.
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The Packers' offensive line suffered key injuries to Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga through the season, and Marshall Newhouse had to step up in Clifton's absence along with first-round pick Derred Sherrod.
Sherrod also suffered a season-ending injury later in the season, and Newhouse was forced into action at both tackle spots.
Now, with Clifton's return questionable and Scott Wells an impending free agent, the Pack could do better by re-signing Wells, who helped hold the interior of the offensive line intact.
Adding more depth inside as well could not hurt, especially at guard, where Josh Sitton was injured and the Packers grew short on linemen late in the season.
Drafting a young center in the later rounds to groom behind Wells would help as well. If the Pack fail to re-sign Wells, Green Bay may look to the upper rounds of the draft to select his replacement.