Why the Packers defense will finally be better

By Andrew Hanlon

The Packers' defense hasn't carried its own weight in years. Probably since Green Bay won Super Bowl XLV, which is no coincidence.

In 2011, the Packers' defense dropped from fifth in the league in total defense to dead last.

In 2012, they were 22nd. They jumped to eighth in 2013, but fell back to 18th last season.

Meanwhile, the Packers' offense ranked first (2011), fifth (2012) , eighth (2013) and first (2014) in points scored during those seasons.

Again - the Packers' defense hasn't carried its own weight in years.

This year, though, will finally be different because of one word - Versatility.

Defense Coordinator Dom Capers loves to use multiple players and multiple packages, and the Packers' defense this season is built for exactly that. Capers will be able to employ packages to stop the run, the pass, or do both at the same time.

Theoretically, as long as everyone stays healthy, here are some of the packages Capers could unload on opposing offenses:
  • On first down - Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion (defensive line). Mike Neal/Nick Perry, Julius Peppers (outside linebackers) and Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington (inside linebackers). Sam Shields, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson (secondary).
    • Keep in mind the Packers could play four down lineman with Peppers moving down to defensive end. And Richardson plays essentially like an extra linebacker. Green Bay could finally solve its run-stopping woes with this unit.
  • On second down - Daniels and Raji (defensive line). Matthews, Peppers and Barrington (linebackers). Shields, Hayward, Micah Hyde, Clinton-Dix, Burnett and first round pick Damarious Randall/second round pick Quinten Rollins/Richardson (secondary).
    • Hyde, Randall and Rollins are all corner/safety hybrids that are used to both defending the run and playing the pass. Versatility. This package would give the Packers the ability to both stop the run and cover the pass. Or Capers could substitute a third lineman in for his sixth defensive back, or play Richardson as his sixth defensive back in more run-heavy situations.
  • On third down - Same package as second down with some tweaks. Barrington could always be removed in favor of a seventh defensive back, which could give the Packers a front of Peppers, Daniels, Raji and Matthews (which should be able to generate a decent pass rush) to go along with seven cover guys. Or Green Bay could keep six in the defensive backfield and go with another pass rusher like Neal or Perry.
    • Keep in mind, having versatile defensive backs like Green Bay does can allow for exotic blitz packages. Randall, Rollins and Hyde could line up in the slot and blitz, drop back to safety to cover blitzes from Clinton-Dix and Burnett or drop back to cover a blitz from Shields or Hayward on the outside, all while keeping the offense confused as to where the rush is coming from.
This amount of versatility allows for Capers to draw up almost anything he can imagine, which he likely will. The additions of Randall and Rollins in the draft were met with some skepticism at first because of their background as safeties in college, but projections as corners in the pros. As long as one or both are able to grasp the playbook and stay healthy, though, that tweener status could add an entirely new dimension to Green Bay's defense.

We know the Packers' offense is going to be great. The question mark has always been the defense. But if the versatility of that side allows it to pull its own weight ... Well, I wouldn't expect any more NFC Championship meltdowns at least.

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