Green Bay Packers: Biggest Matchups Facing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in Rookie Season
The Green Bay Packers are hopeful that rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be a playmaker for their defense in 2014. The unit coordinated by Dom Capers needs one badly, as the defense plummeted statistically in the second half of the 2013 season.
Going into their Week 9 game against the Bears last year in Green Bay, the Packers were ranked 11th in total defense and fourth in rushing defense. By the time the season ended, the Packers fell all the way to the 25th ranking in total defense and also to 25th in rushing defense.
That is quite a fall. The pass defense wasn't much better, as the Packers were ranked 24th in that category.
The biggest eyesore on the defense was the play of the safeties last season. Not one of the safeties had an interception, and that hasn't happened in over 60 years. Additionally, the tackling in the secondary was abysmal at times, and the safeties led the way.
As noted by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Morgan Burnett led the team with 17 missed tackles while M.D. Jennings wasn't much better bringing down opposing players. Jennings also gave up a team-high 4.5 touchdown passes.
It makes sense that the Packers did not offer Jennings a contract after his performance last season, and the restricted free agent signed with the Bears instead.
The Packers hope that Burnett will play this upcoming season like he did in 2011 and 2012, which allowed him to get a contract extension with the team last summer.
The addition of Clinton-Dix should help, plus Burnett will need to play well anyway, as more playing time is expected for Micah Hyde.
But the key to the success of the secondary will be No. 21, as Clinton-Dix is a true ball hawk who plays the deep pass very well. The former Alabama Crimson Tide star was also a steady tackler in college.
The Packers need some consistency at the safety position, and Clinton-Dix can provide that. But he and his defensive teammates will be tested by some dangerous offenses in 2014. I'm listing seven of those matchups in this slideshow.
Week 1: Versus Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle
When one thinks of the Seattle Seahawks, the first thing one usually thinks about is their fast and furious defense. The Seahawks were ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense last year, as a matter of fact.
But Seattle also has a very capable offense, run by quarterback Russell Wilson. It starts with a punishing ground game led by Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks were ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing offense last year.
Consistent and effective tackling is crucial when going up against Lynch and company.
But you can't fall asleep when Wilson goes back to pass, either, because he can hurt you with both his arm and his legs. Seattle was only ranked 26th in passing offense, but Wilson was still dangerous, as he threw 26 touchdown passes versus nine picks for 3,357 yards last season. That adds up to a quarterback rating of 101.2.
The former Wisconsin Badger can also run, as he has rushed for 1,028 yards and five touchdowns in just two years in the NFL.
Bottom line, Clinton-Dix and the secondary have to be on their toes at all times when Wilson drops back in the passing game, and they also have to be sure with their coverage assignments.
Week 3: Versus Matthew Stafford and the Lions in Detroit
When the Packers go into Ford Field in Week 3 of the season, last Thanksgiving will bring back some bad memories. The Packers were thumped 40-10 last year in Detroit, and one reason was the explosiveness of the Detroit offense.
Last season Stafford threw 29 touchdown passes versus 19 interceptions for 4,650 yards. Over the last three years, Stafford has thrown 90 touchdown passes versus 52 picks for 14,655 yards. If not for all the untimely interceptions, No. 9 would be considered an upper-tier quarterback in the NFL.
Stafford will be getting a few new weapons in 2014, as the Lions drafted talented tight end Eric Ebron of North Carolina, plus added free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate. But when push comes to shove, Stafford will always look to his favorite target, Calvin Johnson.
Johnson is one of the best, if not the best wide receiver in the NFL. In his career, Johnson has 572 receptions for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns. Johnson uses his 6'5" frame very effectively over smaller defensive backs.
The Lions also have a couple of very dangerous running backs in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Bush is equally as dangerous in the passing game.
This game will be the first NFC North divisional game for Clinton-Dix and the Packers, and it will be a very difficult test.
Week 8: Versus Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans
The last time the Packers played Drew Brees and the Saints in New Orleans, Green Bay was beaten 51-29. The Packers have played Brees and the Saints twice since then at Lambeau Field and won both times, but both games were close and high-scoring.
The Packers should expect a similar game in Week 8 in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Louisiana Superdome.
Brees has had an amazing NFL career thus far, as he has 363 touchdown passes versus 177 interceptions for 6,799 yards.The former Purdue Boilermaker has also thrown for over 5,000 yards three years in a row.
Brees was also the MVP of Super Bowl XLIV when the Saints beat the Colts 31-17.
Brees has an assortment of weapons to use in the passing game. Tight end Jimmy Graham is the biggest threat, but Brees can also look to receivers like Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem and now the first-round pick for the Saints in 2014, Brandin Cooks.
The Saints can also run the ball behind Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram.
But if you are to beat the Saints, you have to stop Brees, and that is a very hard thing to do. Clinton-Dix and the secondary of the Packers will definitely have their hands full in this matchup.
Week 10: Versus Jay Cutler and the Bears in Green Bay
Behind new head coach Marc Trestman, the offense of the Chicago Bears was very good in 2013. Quarterback Jay Cutler cut down on his mistakes, plus his backup Josh McCown (now with the Tampa Bay Bucs) was almost flawless.
Combined, Cutler and McCown threw 32 touchdown passes versus 13 interceptions for 4,450 yards.
The Bears have one of the bigger wide receiver combinations in the NFL with the 6'4" Brandon Marshall and the 6'4" Alshon Jeffery. The two combined for 189 receptions for 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Cutler can also utilize tight end Martellus Bennett in the passing game, as Bennett had 65 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns.
Chicago also has one of the better dual-threats at running back with Matt Forte. Forte had 1,933 total yards last year, as he had 1,339 yards rushing and 594 yards receiving, plus he had 12 touchdowns.
When you play the Bears, you have to expect a very physical game. The Week 10 matchup looks to be just that for Clinton-Dix and the Packers.
Week 11: Versus Nick Foles and the Eagles in Green Bay
One of the reasons that Foles had such a good day was because of a couple of blown coverages by the safeties which led to two of his touchdown passes.
If that didn't hurt enough, running back LeSean McCoy rushed for 155 yards, and he basically ran out the clock by himself late in the game as the Packers just could not stop him.
The Eagles run a fast-paced offense which has been mastered by head coach Chip Kelly. It's imperative for defenses to be sure of their assignments when you face the Eagles.
The Eagles were ranked second in total offense last year, plus they were ranked No. 1 in rushing offense.
I expect Clinton-Dix and the Packers to watch a lot of tape from last year's game. There are a number of lessons that need to be learned before the Week 11 matchup this year. The safeties need to pay close attention.
Week 13: Versus Tom Brady and the Patriots in Green Bay
Quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots always seems to put up big numbers no matter what. Last year, even with a depleted corps of receivers due to injuries, free agency and other factors, Brady threw 25 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions for 4,343 yards.
Brady will look to tight end Rob Grankowski quite often in the passing game, especially in the red zone, plus he has other threats with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola at wide receiver.
The Pats have a number of running backs that they like to use, including Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Don't be surprised if rookie James White becomes the primary third-down back for the Pats.
This Week 13 matchup will be another difficult exam for Clinton-Dix and his defensive teammates.
Week 14: Versus Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Green Bay
The Atlanta Falcons had a rough year in 2013 as the team finished 4-12. It was hard to believe that a team could have a record like that after being in the NFC Championship Game just the year before.
The Falcons suffered through numerous injuries last season, and that was the root cause for their downfall. If the team can get healthy again, the Dirty Birds can make some noise in 2014.
Behind quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons finished seventh in passing offense in the NFL last season. Over the course of the year, in which he was under tremendous pass-pressure due to injuries on the offensive line, Ryan threw 26 touchdown passes versus 17 picks for 4,515 yards.
One huge loss for Ryan and the Falcons was the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. It's almost impossible for anyone to match his production and consistency over the years with both the Falcons and Chiefs.
At running back, Atlanta has veteran Steven Jackson toting the rock most of the time, with Jacquizz Rodgers helping out as well. Both Jackson and Rodgers are also adept at catching the ball.
This will be another matchup that will test the mettle of Clinton-Dix and the rest of the secondary of the Packers.