I planned on getting this entry posted on Sunday but a lack of internet and time the last few days has pushed this back. Today I will give out grades to the Packers defensive groups so far this season. One thing you can expect out of these grades is they will probably look better than any grade given out last year.
Defensive Line: B+
There are several reasons why this unit is better this season. One of them is the infusion of the two rookies on the d-line in Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels who both have two sacks on the season. Another factor is Mike Neal, who after serving his four game suspension because of Adderall has contributed two sacks as well.
The unsung hero on this line is defensive end C.J. Wilson. Wilson has contributed 2.5 sacks this year which is the best out of all the d-linemen. With the suspension of Neal and losing B.J Raji for a few games, Wilson has stepped up and played very well this season.
A final reason why the d-line is so much better is the freshness of Ryan Pickett and Raji. This point ties a lot in with the first one about the infusion of the rookies. To have Pickett and Raji not playing 80% or more of the snaps has made this the most effective d-line rotation the Packers have had in years.
This unit has played very sound this year but outside Clay Matthews there hasn’t been a whole lot of explosive plays. Matthews leads the team with 9 sacks but will be out this weekend against Detroit because of a hamstring injury. Rookie Nick Perry looked pretty good until wrist surgery ended his season and Erik Walden is playing with a lot of anger and a higher motor this season. Undrafted rookie Desmon Moses has played admirably this season and will be counted on a lot this next week.
The inside linebacker position has been a very violent version of musical chairs. After losing Desmond Bishop in the first preseason game, the Pack are now on their third man with the green sticker on his helmet. Second year man, DJ Smith was also lost due to a torn ACL. Brad Jones is the third backer to man the spot next to AJ Hawk and has played very sound football. Hawk finally got through for a sack this season and his tackling has looked better. However he hasn’t been a three down linebacker because of his coverage but by him being off the field on passing downs has helped the defense. Overall this group has played sound, fundamental football.
The takeaways aren’t coming at the same rate they did last season, but then again neither are the 40, 50, 60 yards plays the secondary gave up last season. There are plenty of reasons why this group has been a lot this season compared to last year.
Tramon Williams’ shoulder is healthy and he has been able to play the physical style that made him a shut down corner in 2010. Williams has just two interceptions this season but looks like he is back to his in your face form we saw a few years ago. Like the defensive line, the infusion of young talent in the secondary has helped fill holes that just couldn’t be plugged last year.
Second round pick Casey Hayward leads the Pack in interceptions with four and hasn’t been burned much this season. One of the best things about this kid is his short memory and composure. After giving up a forty yard pass to Andre Roberts, Hayward’s body language didn’t change and made the key deflection which ended up in Erik Walden’s hands late in the game against the Cardinals. Throw in fellow rookie Jerron McMillan, and second year guys Davon House and M.D. Jennings and this team has plenty of depth to fill in for an injured Sam Shields and Charles Woodson.
A final reason this team is playing a lot better is the improvement of two third year players in Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett. Burnett is the elder statesmen while Woodson works his way back from a broken collarbone. His tackling has improved along with his overall communication. Shields is another player who has made strides in his third year. After being torched last year and pin-balling off opponents, Shields worked on his tackling this off-season and the work has payed off. The Pack should hopefully have him back in a few weeks from injury.