Are Packers too soft to get back to Super Bowl?
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior analyst
~They say today’s NFL is a passing league.
They used to say you “win titles with defense” or “games are decided in the trenches”.
Now they tell us that great quarterbacks win Super Bowls. Looking at recent history, this seems to be the case.
Looking back at the past decade’s Super Bowl winners, you see Rodgers, Mannings three times, Brady three times, Brees, and you see Roethlisberger twice.
You don’t see Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, or even Hall of Fame bound LaDanian Tomlinson.
Despite all that, a team can be eliminated if they are unable to stop the run, or generate any hard running yards themselves when needed.
Are you confident the Packers can stop a physical running team? Be honest to yourself. Are you?
If they are to advance to the NFC Championship game, they are going to have to get past Adrian Peterson first, and then the mauling San Francisco 49ers, who pounded the Packers with Frank Gore and their massive offensive line back in week one at Lambeau Field.
Have you seen enough improvement, enough toughness, in the Packers defense since that week one loss to the Niners that makes you confident the Packers will shut down or even contain those rushing attacks? Factor in the running ability of both quarterbacks, Christian Ponder of the Vikings, and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, and you might have a recipe for disaster for the Packers defense.
How soft is this defense?
The Packers are tied for sixth worst in the NFL allowing 4.5 yards per carry.
They’ve also only forced a pathetic three, 3, fumbles lost all season, which is tied for dead last in the 32-team National Football League.
The other three teams tied with them are the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all teams who are into their off-seasons already, eliminated weeks ago.
To contrast that, the Patriots have forced 19 fumbles and the Bears 12. True, the Bears still missed the playoffs. But they only won one fewer game than the Packers did, and they have Jay Cutler and not Aaron Rodgers.
Sure, some fumbles are more luck than skill. But with constant hard hitting and gang tackling, you will get more fumbles.
In terms of total yards allowed rushing, and total touchdowns allowed, the Packers defense is pretty average. They’ve allowed 37 touchdowns in 16 games, so about 2.3 per game.
The Seahawks and 49ers have only allowed 25 and 29, respectively. Surprisingly, the Redskins are the worst among all the playoff teams, 13th in the NFL, allowing 43 total touchdowns, 31 via the pass.
There are some physical, strong guys on the Packers defense of course.
Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, and Clay Matthews top the list. But this team clearly misses Desmond Bishop in the middle of the defense, and many people said this when he first got hurt way back in August, that they’d miss his physical presence.
A.J. Hawk tries as hard as he can, but he’s not as instinctive at blowing up the back in the hole like Bishop proved to be. The other current starting inside linebacker is Brad Jones, and he’s playing out of position. He’s not a natural hole-reader. He was drafted to fly around the edge and get after quarterbacks.
But the key area this defense being soft is the back end, the defensive backs.
Obviously, the loss last year of Nick Collins was a fatal blow.
Collins was a good tackler and he was great at covering up coverage mistakes by cornerbacks. He truly was an elite safety.
His absence last year was highlighted in the embarrassing playoff flop against the Giants, when Charlie Peprah, Morgan Burnett and company just let Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks bounce off their attempted tackles and waltz into the end zone.
But there just seems to be something physically lacking in almost all of the Packer DB’s.
Their strength clearly seems to be in coverage, not tackling.
Davon House is thin, frail, the opposite of physical. He’s not playing right now anyway, but Tramon Williams looks the same way. I believe Williams is still playing with a bad shoulder and he appears to be favoring it when he does have to get involved in a tackle.
Sam Shields is a great cover guy, but he’s another thin, not strong guy back there. He’s been chewed out, even benched, for his poor tackling and effort to do so.
Safeties M.D. Jennings and Jeron McMillian at least try. McMillian has a strong build, probably the strongest. But he’s not polished his tackling technique yet at this level. Jennings gives effort, but he’s not that strong either.
Casey Hayward allowed backup running back Toby Gerhart to take a simple swing screen last week, and then he avoided contact, allowing Toby to rumble for the 11+ yards needed on that third and long play. More often than not, calls like that are give-ups, just trying to get a few more yards for a field goal attempt or field position after a stop and punt.
But perhaps the Vikings knew something, and that’s that the Packer DB’s are vulnerable to missing tackles and allowing big plays.
That brings me to this question: Is the Packer strength & training system the problem? Is it coaching? Or is this something that is missing in the scouting area by Ted Thompson? He seems to prefer the 5-11, and 6-0 corners who can run. They tend to be thin, good cover guys, but poor tacklers.
Against strong running teams like the Vikings and 49ers, running backs are going to get past the defensive line sometimes, and past the linebackers sometimes. When you factor in the fact that Hawk and Jones are certainly no Willis and Bowman, they are going to get past the linebackers more than a few times. That’s why it is imperative that the DB’s can tackle.
Can this be fixed?
Can it be fixed in time to get Adrian Peterson stopped this week or will this deficiency get the Packers booted from the playoffs in their first playoff game again for the third time in four years?
The return of Charles Woodson, hopefully for Packer fans, will be the spark that this defense needs in order to make another Super Bowl run.
Then there’s the Packers offensive line.
While Rodgers does allow some sacks by holding onto the ball too long, there is a significant difference between the physicality of the Packers front five, and teams like the 49ers and Redskins.
Sure, the 49ers do have a bunch of first round draft picks on their O-line. But they’ve been lucky compared to the Packers as both Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod were first round picks, but because of injuries, they’re spectators. The result is a drop in talent, ability, and perhaps physicality.
On third and one, or fourth and a half-yard, how confident are you that Rodgers can hand the ball off to any RB, and there will be enough space to get that hard yard or half-yard?
Or is it to the point that you are expecting something like this when the RB gets the ball: Bad blocking
Here’s how you can answer the question about the softness. Ask yourself this: If the Packers don’t win the Super Bowl, how are they going to lose? And to who?