The Packers defense was one of the league's best last season -- quite an impressive feat for the first year of the new 3-4 scheme. There were many key players that made the defensive squad as prolific as it was: Defensive MVP Charles Woodson, Rookie Of The Year contender Clay Matthews and two-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins. While those players may have taken care of business last year, who will be vital to the defense in 2010?
Having C-Wood listed as number one shouldn't be much of a surprise. While it may be obvious why he is so vital to the squad after being one of the best defensive players last season, one other factor that will make him so important in 2010 is his ability to shut down an opposing team's go-to wide receivers. The Packers' schedule is loaded with stud wide-outs including Brandon Marshall, Desean Jackson,Calvin Johnson and Sidney Rice. If Woodson can stop those guys, stopping opposing offenses will be a lot easier.
When Green Bay switched to the 3-4, the pass rushing duties were shifted from the defensive ends to the outside linebackers, which was a change that Matthews made work to perfection. He put endless pressure on opposing quarterbacks, causing early, forced throws that led to interceptions. The other times Matthews got in the quarterback's grill, he made sure to take them down on his way to tallying 10 sacks. Matthew's speed and range will shut down outside run games and force plays inside, making it a lot harder to move the ball.
Pickett, a 6'-2", 340 lb. defensive lineman, has the ability to stuff inside runs and occupy the offensive line while the Packer linebackers swarm to the play. That ability is exactly what the Packers need out of their 3-4 scheme -- a mammoth to jam the middle. Pickett will not only be a vital part to the defense in 2010 but also in the years to come, thanks to a contract extension he signed with the team earlier in the off season.
Tramon Williams made the news recently after finally showing up at the Packers' OTAs. There is a lot of buzz over what he will do this season, whether it is as a starter if Al Harris isn't ready to go in time or if it as the nickel cornerback position. Either way, he has to step up. He will have to step in for Harris and try to carry the torch in what was one of the league's best corner tandems, or he will have to the nickel back to keep slot receivers locked down -- something that the Pack hasn't had for quite some time.
This may seem like a cheap excuse to not name a fifth player, but it really isn't Once you list the four main players for this year's squad (I realize Nick Collins wasn't on there -- I'm not implying he isn't important, I just think the role Williams has to play is crucial), you have to rely on how everyone else contributes. Defense is a team effort (obviously) and everyone has to do their job. If the defensive line doesn't take care of the men across from them, the offensive line will be able to pick up the linebackers and render their blitzes useless. If the corners don't perform, the safeties will have to roam the field and try to break up passes to wide open receivers.
And most importantly, if the defense doesn't do their job by creating turnovers and making the field shorter for the offense, it will be very hard to win games.