The Green Bay Packers defensive deficiencies were exposed against the Arizona Cardinals – lack of secondary depth and linebackers who can’t cover. While the Packers need to address these things in offseason, the real difference maker could be a big-time pass rusher.
Let’s look at the obvious deficiencies first. The cornerback position is well stocked if Al Harris comes back from his ACL injury and both Pat Lee and Will Blackmon stay healthy. Adding those guys to the mix with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams would give the Packers a much stronger (and Jarrett Bush-less) dime package, providing they re-sign safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. What the Packers really need is safety depth. Derrick Martin may develop into a solid backup safety, but the Packers will need to add someone through the draft or free agency so they aren’t left with Matt Giordano chasing Larry Fitzgerald around the field if they incur a couple of injuries.
The Packers linebackers aren’t likely to change, with the exception of Aaron Kampman, who’s likely to sign with a 4-3 team. Although the Packers’ inside linebackers are slightly above average at best, Brandon Chillar, A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett and to a lesser extent Desmond Bishop are going to be the guys on the field. If the Packers can keep Hawk off the field on passing downs in favor of Chillar and keep Barnett’s head in the game, they should be able to keep the damage to a minimum, which brings me to the glaring hole: a pass rusher who can win the one-on-one battle.
Sure, the Packers have Clay Matthews, who registered 10 sacks as a rookie, but it’s clear he can’t do it alone.
Take the playoff loss to the Cardinals and the last-second loss to the Steelers as examples. In both of those games, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was playing his dime package to combat the pass and rushing only three or four.
The result? A defense that applied no pressure and got picked apart. Certainly, having better defensive backs on the field would have helped the Packers’ cause in both cases, but having a pass rusher who can win the one-on-one matchup changes the game.
Not only would the Packers have pressures and sacks from Player X, which changes both down and distance and game planning, but Matthews would have better opportunities to get to the quarterback. Opposing offenses would have less time and be off balance with two rushers to fear.
The way the Packers rushed the quarterback last Sunday and against the Steelers, they almost had to be perfect in pass defense and were obviously far from that.
The Packers can add defensive backs and linebackers through the draft and by signing second-tier free agents, but it’s time Ted Thompson took a look a signing a big-time pass rusher in free agency.
Michael Lombardi suggests someone the caliber of Julius Peppers. That caliber of player won’t come cheap, but the Packers have the financial flexibility to pull it off and he might just be the player that takes the team to the next level.
That being a Super Bowl level.