The Green Bay Packers defense has been one of the worst in the league for all of the regular season. Just look at the chart below from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) that displays the Packers' defensive grades from the regular season:
|Green Bay Packers Defensive Grades|
|Via Pro Football Focus|
That's bad. That's like I-can't-believe-you're-an-NFL-defense bad.
However, the Packers showed huge progress in their 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and it was enough progress to give a large amount of hope for the future of this defense.
For starters, the Packers were able to hold the 49ers offense in check for the majority of the game. They didn't give up 181 rushing yards or 412 passing yards to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, so that's definitely a step forward.
But what was most impressive about the performance from the defense was that it played so well despite missing so many key members of the unit. This tweet from ESPN's Jason Wilde sums up the Packers' injury woes rather perfectly:
The top cover guy Wilde was referring to was cornerback Sam Shields, who was injured early in the first quarter. Linebacker Mike Neal was also lost early in the game. Throw in the fact that the Packers were already without cornerback Casey Hayward, defensive end Johnny Jolly and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, and the play of the defense against San Francisco is even more impressive.
What Sunday's game showed was that there are plenty of pieces for Green Bay to build upon. From young defensive ends Mike Daniels and Datone Jones to rookie cornerback Micah Hyde, the Packers have players with loads of potential.
Combine the young pieces with the impressive season from linebacker A.J. Hawk and the return of Hayward and Matthews, and you have the possibility of Green Bay fielding one of the better defensive units in the league.
Are there still problem spots on the defense? Of course. But the good news is that the issues are easily addressable in the offseason.
The biggest area of concern remains at the safety position, but the NFL draft and free agency should offer plenty of opportunities for the Packers to add some playmakers.
If the Packers can fix the few holes on the defensive side of the ball in the offseason, we could be looking at a unit that is just as good, or better, than the 2010 Packers defense. That's certainly a bold statement, but anyone who watched the Packers defense play extremely tough against a very good 49ers offense knows that the future is bright in Green Bay.