2011 Green Bay Packers Mid-Term Grades: Defense and Special Teams

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IINovember 4, 2011

2011 Green Bay Packers Mid-Term Grades: Defense and Special Teams

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    Having already prepared the mid-term grades for the Green Bay Packers' offense last week, it is time to focus our attention on the defense and special teams. Just like that article, each unit is graded separately and the grade of each player of any significance is listed within that slide.

    Overall, the Packers went into the bye week 10th in points allowed, but rank a disappointing 28th in total yards. Still, it is points that the team is worried about, and any good grading system looks beyond the numbers for variables affecting them.

    For one, a lot of yards and even points are yielded by this defense in garbage time because the Packers are the highest-scoring team in the league. The defense has also faced the only two quarterbacks ahead of Aaron Rodgers in passing yards, though they certainly contributed to that number.

    The disparity between the yards and points is also attributable to the Packers' "dare you to pass" approach. While an opposing quarterback can rack up passing yards on the Packers, they do so at their own risk: Green Bay is one interception behind Buffalo for the league lead, and therefore has the ninth-best opponent passer rating.

    Thus, this defense clearly does not compare to last year's second-ranked unit, but is better than some numbers might suggest. No qualified analyst, scout or coach without a bias would find this unit in the bottom half of the league.

    But, with 32 teams and five grades, where do each of these units place?

Defensive Line: B-

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    Unit grades in order by week: A, B-, A+, D+, C, C-, D

    No matter what anyone thinks, this unit clearly misses Cullen Jenkins. While doing better against the run this season, most of that difference can be attributed to fewer scrambling quarterbacks faced. The line is applying less pressure and relying more on the linebackers to make tackles.

    B.J. Raji has not been the dominant force in the middle he was when Jenkins held down the end in the second half of last season. He has just 16 tackles, just nine solo, although his two sacks aren't bad for a nose tackle, and his pass rush has led to more than the usual number of pressures and penalties...B.

    Ryan Pickett has been a consistent presence on the outside while amassing 14 tackles (nine solo), but lacks the athleticism to provide much of a pass rush (no sacks). Still, he can always be counted on for containment responsibilities, and that keeps quarterbacks from breaking to the outside as much as they did last season...B-.

    Jarius Wynn is an undersized defensive end in the 3-4, but has been a pleasant surprise against the run. While his playing time has been split with C.J. Wilson and even Howard Green (and thus cannot be considered as valuable as every-down players Raji and Pickett), he has made more plays while he is on the field than anyone else in this unit. He has 11 tackles (eight solo) and three sacks...C+.

    C.J. Wilson, another undersized end, has been more capable against the run than expected. His nine tackles (seven solo) are more than adequate for a part-time player, and while he does not have any sacks, he has provided adequate pressure...C.

    Howard Green is a perfect depth player, capable of playing both tackle and end in a 3-4. However, he rarely gets on the field and has little impact when he does (one solo tackle, three assists, no sacks)...D.

Linebackers: C+

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    Unit grades in order by week: D, D+, C-, C, B, A, B

    The strength of this defense in 2010, the linebackers, are not performing as well this season. However, as you can see from their grades above, they are coming together, having improved each week until the last game in Minnesota.

    Desmond Bishop has been the unit's best player virtually every week. He leads the group in every major statistical category, with 65 tackles, three sacks and the only forced turnover (a fumble) on the unit...A.

    Clay Matthews, III, has not matched last year's success in the stats NFL.com chooses to list. He has only 22 tackles (seven assists) and three sacks. However, he is among the league leaders in pressures and hits, and draws a penalty a game between holds and false starts...B+.

    A.J. Hawk has been his usual solid but unspectacular self. With 34 combined tackles and a team-leading 14 assists, he is always around the ball, yet rarely making big plays (1.5 sacks)...C+.

    Frank Zombo has been hurt most of the year, but has not been particularly impressive when he has been on the field. He has four tackles (one assist) and no sacks...D+.

    Erik Walden has been a bit of a liability in coverage and has just one sack, but he is solid against the run and has 21 tackles (seven assists)...D+.

    Brad Jones has gotten very little playing time and has six tackles this season, three of which are assists...D.

Secondary: B

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    Unit grades in order by week: D, C+, B-, A-, A, A-, B

    After a slow start, this unit is returning to its 2010 form despite the loss of Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. As mentioned in the first slide, the Packers may give up a lot of yards, but no secondary has as many interceptions.

    Morgan Burnett has been the team's most impressive defensive back because he has been great in not only the passing game but run support. He is the primary reason the team has not suffered from the loss of Collins, and even played well with a broken hand in Minnesota. His 50 tackles (14 assists) and five turnovers forced (two fumbles) are top-two on the team, and he also has a sack...A.

    Charles Woodson has been his usual, versatile, play-making self. He has five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), 26 tackles (only six being assists) and a sack...A.

    Charlie Peprah has also helped minimize the loss of Collins. He has 33 tackles, though 10 are assists, and two interceptions...B.

    Tramon Williams has had a statistically disappointing season, with no interceptions and not even leading the team in passes defensed. However, he remains the team's best cover corner and has 21 tackles, only two of which are assists...B.

    Nick Collins played in just two games and was having another solid season before getting hurt, with 12 tackles, a fumble forced and a pass defensed. However, while the sample size is small and the quarterbacks the Packers faced while he was healthy were the two best in yards per game, there is little doubt the secondary is playing its best since he went down...B.

    Jarret Bush continues to make my two years of calling for a replacement look foolish. Besides an interception and 1.5 sacks, he has 15 tackles (just two assists) in limited action...C+.

    Sam Shields has been the team's biggest disappointment, after playing so well as an undrafted rookie last season. Other teams are racking up many of those passing yards at his expense, and one of his two interceptions came on a horribly underthrown ball to a wide-open receiver in the endzone. However, he does have 23 tackles (two assists), one fumble forced and had a 60-yard return (no score) on his other pick...C-.

Special Teams: C

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    Unit grades in order by week: C, D, C, B-, A-, A-, B

    On ESPN's "Numbers Never Lie" (maybe not, but they can mislead), the number-cruncher mentioned that the Packers' special teams were ranked 13th in the league. He did not say that was where he ranked the team, but listed that as definitively as where the Packers ranked in rushing yards.

    How can special teams earn the same kind of ranking when you have so many different components? What percentage are field goals, punting average, punts inside the 20 vs. touchbacks, return yardage or penalties?

    Nonetheless, 13th seems about right. The Packers kept up with or out-played special teams standouts New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta but were out-played by Carolina and a terrible Rams' unit.

    Mason Crosby is undoubtedly the anchor of this unit. He may have only tried three field goals of 40-plus yards (and only one total at Lambeau Field), but two were over 55 yards. Regardless, you can only hit the field goals you line up for, and Crosby hit all 16. He is also putting kicks deep and, when they are returned, they average under 25 yards...A+.

    Randall Cobb has bolstered the Packers' return game, handling all 13 kicks that were put deep. His average of 27.5 yards is good, and he has a 108-yard touchdown. His punt return average of 8.1 yards is more pedestrian, and he has almost as many fair catches (11) as returns (12). Moreover, he has lost two fumbles between kicks and punts...C-.

    Tim Masthay has not enjoyed the kind of success he did last season, when he had 25 punts pinned inside the 20 and only five touchbacks, with one touchdown return for a 37.6-yard net average. This season, those numbers are seven, two, one and 33.5...C-.