Just wanted to get my prediction out now, before the game, so no one could claim I am overreacting to a meaningless pre-season contest. Regardless what happens tonight I am still left with the feeling that the Packers did not do enough in the off-season to make meaningful improvement to one of the worst defenses in the league over the last 3 seasons.
First off lets start with the coaching. While it seems cool now, before games have been played, to claim “Dom’s my guy” it’s hard to argue with the fact that Dom Capers’ schemes have consistently done more to confuse his own players than it has to confuse opposing offenses. Defensive backs and linebackers pointing at each other and shaking their heads after a big play has been an all too common occurrence. McCarthy seemed to admit this problem with his “more personnel, less schemes” talk during the off-season. Was McCarthy able to shake up Capers enough to fix the problems. I hope so, but history tells us it’s not likely. Capers’ defenses over the years have consistently gotten worse overtime, if it improves this year that will an exception, far from the rule.
Now on to the players. I don’t agree that the Packer’s defensive talent is bottom 10 in the league, although that is where they consistently rank. There is no doubt however that up the middle (nose tackle, inside linebackers and safety) the Packers talent is very much below average. What did Ted Thompson do to address this weakness during the off-season? Almost nothing.
Thompson did invest a first round pick at safety in Clinton-Dix, but will that pay significant dividends this season? Probably not. See the previous comments about Capers’ schemes confusing his own players along with Tramon Williams comments at the end of the season about the team needing more veteran players and it is likely we will see a talented but often out of position young player. The same is also likely for first year safety, Micah Hyde.
At inside linebacker, which a lot of experts considered as great of a need for upgrade as safety, Thompson did nothing. That’s right nothing! We are left with the starting tandem of AJ Hawk and Brad Jones. Although Hawk’s overall performance is average at best, I understand his value. He is almost never hurt and is assignment sure (which is quite a challenge given Capers’ schemes). Brad Jones on the other hand is simply not an NFL caliber starting inside linebacker. If the Packers cut him tomorrow he might get picked up by another team for depth, but he certainly would not find another starting spot.
Finally at nose tackle we have BJ Raji. Raji has simply been the poster boy for under-performing, on an under-performing defense. If his stats don’t tell you how poorly he has played over the last two years the complete lack of interest in free-agency should have. Will he play better at nose tackle than defensive end? Probably, but probably not enough to be a significant improvement.
I hope I look back at the end of the season at this post and laugh at how wrong I was. I hope if I am correct, the defense can be just good enough to allow the offense to carry the team. But at the end of the day, with a critical eye, I believe we will see another season limited by a bad defense.