Are The Packer Linebackers This Year's X-Factor?

Carter BierwirthContributor INovember 7, 2008

Well, here we are once more. The regular season has passed its' halfway mark and thus far the stats speak for themselves.

The Green Bay Packers stand at a very mediocre 4-4; coming off a rather lackluster performance against the undefeated Titans. Aaron Rodgers has managed to effectively take the reins of this very powerful offense, even in the wake of Brett Favre's messy divorce with the Packers. The offense averages 235.4 yards in passing, while rushing stands at one of the league's lowest 101.1 yards.

So far this season the problem has not stood so much on the shoulder's of Aaron Rodgers much like everyone expected, but the on-again, off-again Packer defense. Although the defensive backfield is one of the best in the NFL, allowing only 183.9 yards on average, they also rank as one of the worse defenses against the run allowing 146.4 yards on average per game.

The front four have performed soundly. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is a perfectionist in the bump and run system, but in order for this system to work effectively, all members of the defense need to perform their jobs correctly on every play.

Aaron Kampman has been relatively quiet these past weeks, posting no sacks since the game against Seattle, but also manages to keep pressure on the quarterback with his tenacity. Ryan Pickett has continued to play despite his injury and newcomer Michael Montgomery managed to post two sacks against one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Johnny Jolly and Justin Harrell have also added increased stoutness to the front lines.

Sander's concept of the bump and run shows a basic 4-3 defense. Very rarely does he have more then four guys on the line of scrimmage, despite his announcement to play a more aggressive defense. The largest disappointment in my mind has been the Packer linebacker corps.

Nick Barnett is the veteran and leader of this group, but his performance thus far does little to show his true talents. The Oregon State draftee has managed to effectively plug holes, but easily runs himself out of the play instead of blowing it up. Behind him is A.J. Hawk, the three year man out of Ohio State. His performance has also been dismal. During his rookie season, Hawk posted 119 tackles, 82 of them being solo, 2 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.

Despite his immense physical presence, Hawk has shown that he lacks speed and agility in pursuit of the run, as well as defending the pass. Thus the way was clear for the newly acquired and former Ram Brandon Chillar. Chillar has been one of the defensive standouts in the last two games. He has managed to effectively defend the flats and the center of the field against two very fundamentally dependent teams. The fourth man is Brady Poppinga, a highly inconsistent veteran who has been known to either make big plays or no plays at all.

This group as a whole has managed to disappoint me this year, which really says something for they are one of the most talented groups that the NFC has to offer. Both Barnett and Hawk refuse to challenge blockers at the line of scrimmage, which while running with a 4-3 defense is critical to stopping the ground game. Hawk is in dire need of some foot speed or just more practice with reading his assignments. Chillar and Poppinga have managed to play well outside against the pass, but still have trouble challenging the run. 

A very big game is going to take place this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. This team armed with one of the most dangerous runners to ever grace the NFL in Adrian Peterson. He is coming off a very big win against the Houston Texans, pounding through holes to net 139 yards on 25 carries.

Green Bay did manage to hold Peterson to only 103 yards earlier this year, but on 19 carries. The Packers have now become infamous for allowing large runs, prime evidence given in the 178 yards they allowed Tennessee this past Sunday. McCarthy has stressed that his team needs to perform at 100% for the entire game, but I have not heard any large mentioning of the linebackers in particular. Barnett himself has claimed that he is disappointed with his play, and that he should be making a bigger impact.

If the Packers truly needed a defensive leader, now is the time for one to emerge. Although Barnett has become the spokesmen for the defensive company, he does not create game changing plays when they are needed the most. Too often are the linebackers being pushed away from the play and into the non-factor zone.

The Packer defense has certainly shown improvement over the first half of this season. The defensive backfield has become one of the standouts in the league, but in order to make a deep playoff run, it's time for Barnett and his linebacker brothers to step up and engage the play.

I for one am becoming disgusted in the lack of involvement that this talented set of players continues to show. Should they choose to make an impact on this season, then the turf of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome is the place to do it.