3-4 Defense, Rookies Raji and Matthews Key For Packers' Playoff Run

Scott KirstContributor IMay 28, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - MAY 1:  Linebacker Clay Mathews #52 runs as he participates in practice drills during Green Bay Packers Minicamp at Don Hutson Center on May 1, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

There's no other way to say it...last year was a disappointment for the Green Bay Packers. And while some may point their fingers at quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the defense is what really hurt them.

The Packers defense surrendered just less than six points per game more last year, compared to the 2007 season when the Packers went all the way to the National Football Conference Championship game.

Had the defense not given up those extra points last season, the Packers would have gone 13-3 and been the number one seed in the playoffs.

The defense also had many games last season in which the Packers had the lead late and failed to keep the opposing team from scoring to go ahead and win.

Well, after completely dismantling the defensive coaching staff with the exception of Inside Linebackers Coach Winston Moss, next year's defense is a complete question mark.

On Jan. 19, the Packers hired Dom Capers as their new defensive coordinator, officially switching them from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. They also hired former National Football League linebacker Kevin Greene as their outside linebackers coach. Greene played for Capers while in Pittsburgh and Carolina.

Bringing a new defense to Green Bay means players will have to adjust their playing styles, especially the defensive lineman and linebackers.

"Changing schemes is a big step, but it's a change that we feel is for the best" Head Coach Mike McCarthy told NFL Total Access. "It's to utilize the skills of our defensive players, give them an opportunity to play with more vision to the football, create more pressure situations. We feel we have those types of people."

One of the more noticable moves being made is the move of Aaron Kampman from defensive end to outside linebacker.

Kampman will no doubt still play a little defensive end, but in my mind, the transition will be very rocky and I really don't see it working out.

My biggest overall worry with Kampman is his ability to cover someone. If he is in coverage, there's no way he would cover anyone other than a slow tight end. Faster tight ends will burn him.

As far as the running game goes, Kampman should be OK.

The Packers draft was huge for helping the transition to the 3-4. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji should anchor the nose tackle spot along with Ryan Pickett and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. should fit right in, although he may be splitting time with outside linebacker Brady Poppinga.

With Raji rumored to possibly also play defensive end, it puts pressure on third-year defensive tackle/end Justin Harrell to step up and prove he was worth drafting in the first round.

The defensive end that should be opposite Harrell or Raji, Cullen Jenkins, is coming off a season ending injury and it may take him a while to get back into his old form.

While there are a lot of questions about how the players will perform, moving to the 3-4 defense makes the Packers better for a few reasons.

Reason No. 1: The Packers will be the only team in the NFC North using the 3-4.

This is very advantageous to the Packers because the Bears, Lions and Vikings aren't normally used to playing against it. Therefore, blocking assignments are more likely to be missed or guys will be confused as to who they should block.

Reason No. 2: It should put more pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.

The Packers finished 25th in the entire National Football League by sacking the quarterback 27 times, nine and a half of them coming from Kampman. Putting more pressure on the quarterback will not only result in more sacks, but also more interceptions.

Reason No. 3: It gets rid of the apparent lack of depth on the defensive line.

With one less defensive lineman on the field, the Packers won't have to worry about their possible lack of depth at the position. How Harrell will perform is a question mark, as well as how Raji will transition from college. The future of defensive tackle Johnny Jolly is also in question as he goes through his legal troubles. Either way, it's less guys the coaching staff will have to worry about.

As far as the offense goes, the run and pass games should improve as running back Ryan Grant should be present for all preseason activities this year and Rodgers will be entering his second year as a starter with some experience under his belt.

My prediction for this year is for the Packers to go somewhere along the lines of 10-6. At least three wins should come simply from playing the NFC West, at least four from division games (two from the Lions and at least one each from the Bears and Vikings) and at least two from playing the American Football League North. The games against Tampa Bay and Dallas could go either way.

The final question is, do the Packers make the playoffs?

It will be tough. The NFC East will more than likely have two, maybe even three teams in the playoffs next year. Therefore, it may take a division championship for the Packers to get to the postseason. I think they can do it, however, as the Bears, Packers and Vikings each have a chance to win it and a 10-6 record may be good enough.