The Green Bay Packers defense ought to improve in 2010. Many people praise the Packers as the second-ranked defense in the NFL, by total yardage allowed, or that they were the best rushing defense in means of yards allowed.
It has been pointed out that the growing pains from the 3-4 defense will lessen in year two, and that the return of three cornerbacks from knee injuries will shore up the fifth-ranked passing defense.
Is it really that simple?
Despite how well the Packers transitioned from their former 4-3 defense to the 3-4, there is obviously a huge concern, as several teams including the Vikings, Cardinals, and Steelers exposed the Packers defense and put up huge numbers against them.
Let’s take a peek under the hood.
If you eye over the stats, and even some of the “underlying” stats related to “pass defense” such as sacks, the Packers look to be in pretty good shape. So, what exactly was the problem?
Red Zone defense efficiency, particularly for passing situations posed a problem. The Packers were the best team in the middle of the field, but inside the red zone, they were one of the worst.
Teamrankings.com breaks down the stats for us, and the Red Zone Scoring Percentage for opponents of the Packers in 2009 was a whopping 61.5%. Over half the time opponents got into the red zone, they scored on the Packers. Their run defense was consistent in the red zone, as only five total touchdowns came from runs, tied for firstin the NFL.
However, the Packers tied for fourth in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed.
If we investigate further, we find that the Packers Defense was extremely average at defending the No. 2 receiver, at 15th overall compared to the rest of the NFL (Courtesy of footballoutsiders.com). This of course lends credibility to an article on footballoutsiders.com that mentions Tramon Williams isn't a very good No. 2 cornerback at this stage in his career.
Now that we understand what the problem with the Packers defense is, let’s get to why the Packers ought to improve to be a very solid defense. There are a few reasons why they will, the first of which was the nod to the defensive line.
Thompson brought in BJ Raji in 2009 to become the future nose tackle. He did hold out, and he did play injured, so he was primarily used as defensive end, as opposed to his natural position at nose. Trgovac and Capers, as planned, moved Raji to the center of their defensive line this off season. People may cite that the run defense was already “good,” but Raji offers strong athletic ability that has potential to collapse the center of an offensive line, or at the very least, soak up blockers for the ends to collapse the pocket. This is essential to provide lanes for blitzing safeties, corners, and linebackers.
Thompson wisely drafted two athletic defensive ends, Mike Neal and CJ Wilson. Neal has potential to add some strength to the left side, especially considering Jonny Jolly's legal issues. On the right side, we have CJ Wilson to potentially spell Cullen Jenkins for a few plays so he's not gassed, as he was at the tail end of the Pittsburgh game.
Having strong, large, athletic men on a rotational basis will help wear down the front lines of opposing offenses. As mentioned, it will also free up lanes for the Green Bay “playmakers” to make plays, while also having the potential to collapse the pocket on their own without help.
Another reason the Packers defense will improve is the addition of Morgan Burnett. Typically the strong safety's job is more geared for run support, but in the Packers scheme, due to the naturally strong run defense, he can often times play an extra man in the scheme.
He has natural ball hawking skills, as seen in college and already in training camp, but he also has some speed the Packers may try to use for some zone blitzing. He provides a more flexible skill set than Atari Bigby, as he is faster, has natural ball skills, and possesses a larger and taller frame. Even if Burnett doesn't usurp Bigby's position during this camp, the coaching staff have sworn to use him in certain situations.
The last reason the Packers will improve this season is the improvement of Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood. Lee has been healthy since the middle of last season, despite being on the injured reserve. Brandon Underwood has some legal issues to deal with, but it appears to most as a flimsy case, so he ought to be available. Both Lee and Underwood have strong athletic ability, with natural cover ability. Lee is entering his third year in the system, while Underwood is only a sophomore.
They're using each other as leverage to get better, as Lee has indicated in mini-camp interviews. Harris’ recovery, despite being amazing thus far, is no sure thing, and he is more a candidate for the Physically Unable to Perform list than an active participant for Training Camp, so the improvement of Lee and Underwood is intricate to the Packers success. Both recognize their role is going to be particularly important to the defense, and Capers will utilize the defensive line to create pressure and help take some pressure off of these two young corners.
Improving the pass defense, starting with the trenches, and working outward are how the Packers defense will become better. They have the talent and youth in place to make an impact this year, making an already good Packers defense, great.