All-Time Lineup, Green Bay Packers' Defense
For my all-time Packers lineup, I have selected players based on a few standard criteria.
For one, I put special emphasis on the number of games they played for the organization. It matters less how great their career was with another team as it relates to this franchise, or how great they were for a couple years before injury or trade.
I also put an emphasis on those players who performed during the television era, so I could at least see recordings first-hand of their effectiveness. The only player from the pre-television era I could not deny a place on the roster is Don Hutson (featured in the second installment), who changed the game with his impact, and whose numbers still compare with a lot of receivers of this more pass-happy era.
Finally, I considered how they fared against their peers, not how they would physically match up. We know that modern players are bigger, stronger, faster, and more agile in general than their predecessors, but this excursion would be pointless for all teams if we could only consider today's more athletic specimens.
I have chosen the appropriate number of starters for a standard set for each position, plus one backup. Since defense wins championships, I will start with that unit. Since the unit's foundation is how it does in the trenches, I will start with the line:
DE: Willie Davis anchored Vince Lombardi's vaunted defensive line and was a supreme pass rusher in an era when you had to be able to stop the run to even remain on the field. Defenses had to account for him on plays even to the opposite side.
DE: Reggie White has to top this list, even though he only spent about half his career in Green Bay. He brought the team legitimacy at a time when most free agents shunned major sports' smallest town, and dominated against run and pass, despite drawing constant double-teams.
DE: Ezra Johnson was a fan favorite and dominant pass-rusher on a team that was competitive but not a playoff caliber team. I give him a narrow nod over Lionel Aldridge because unlike his forerunner, he did not have the other guy to draw the double teams.
DT: Henry Jordan anchored the interior for most of Lombardi's tenure.
DT: Gilbert Brown was known as the Gravedigger because he was simply unblockable in the middle. He prevented ball carriers from cutting back (playing an instrumental role in a defense that once held Barry Sanders to -3 yards for an entire playoff game) or going up the middle, sometimes taking on as many as three blockers.
But what a lot of people do not realize is that in the first half of his time with the team, Big Gil had the athleticism to run down plays from the backside and force quarterbacks from the pocket.
DT: Bob Brown played opposite Jordan for most of his career, and managed to stick around until the first playoff appearance after Lombardi left.
LB: Ray Nitschke was among the most-feared players of all-time, with a blue-collar work ethic and a mean streak that kept opposing players' heads on a swivel. He could play both the run and pass as well as anyone in his era not named Dick Butkus.
Plus, my brother had the last published interview with him before he died, writing for a small town paper in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!
LB: John Anderson was one of the few bright spots on the defense of the 1980s, and could play run or pass with equal effectiveness. He also was the team's emergency kicker; I remember a field goal and subsequent kickoff in one game.
LB: Mike "Mad Dog" Douglass was often overlooked because the team never won more than eight games when he was playing, but he was a disruptive force against the run, and on the blitz, or hitting receivers coming across the middle.
LB: Brian Noble helped the Packers transition into the Mike Holmgren era and was especially potent as a pass rusher, good in coverage, and solid against the run.
CB: Herb Adderly was Lombardi's best pass defender, and as with all the players under Vince, a reliable tackler who could not be exploited on running plays to the outside.
CB: Bob Jeter handled the side opposite Adderly, and was near his mate's equal.
CB: Tim Lewis was one of the smartest (exemplified by his subsequent coaching of the defensive backfield for the Pittsburgh Steelers), most capable pass defenders ever to wear the Green and Gold, before his career was cut short by a neck injury.
He is on this list because the Packers are thin at this position, but also because he was that dominant when he did play.
S: LeRoy Butler is also incredibly smart—he's coaching the Packers' defensive backs now—and a tremendous leader. He had a nose for the ball, was a sure tackler, and arguably the best blitzing defensive back in league history. Moreover, he could move over into the slot and cover well in nickel and dime situations, virtually unheard of for a strong safety. He was the first to do the Lambeau Leap and remains my favorite all-time Packer.
S: Willie Wood was the career Packer leader in interceptions for over two decades and anchored a defensive backfield that saw more action than most teams in his time because of the deficits their opponents often worked with.
S: Darren Sharper said some pretty ugly things when the team did not re-sign him and was a bit of a hotdog, going for the SportsCenter highlight play over the safer, more responsible play at times. But no safety could make more of those plays when he was at his peak for the team: He was always among league leaders in interceptions and return yards. Moreover, he was as good in coverage as some teams' starting corners and still a sure tackler.
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