As the fall chill gives way to winters freezing bite, a hollow reminder fills the memories of the Green Bay Packers faithful, most notably with the absence of an efficient middle linebacking core.
Why? Well, the main reason has to be in defending the pass. The game has evolved to tight ends that have the speed and agility to rival wide-receivers in the game. Instead of only few stars TEs in the college game, the NFL has a bevy of notably dangerous TE targets.
We only need to feel the chill of recent January losses to understand the sinking ship that is the middle of the Packers defense.
Instead of a feared mine-field, the middle has transformed into the wild frontier. Boundless in the amount of space and room for Giants‘ receivers and check-down running backs to feast upon. The crippling banquet has filled the guts of our enemies too long, and left us exhausted in disbelief.
I was there, slapping my legs for circulation in the haunting freezer of Lambeau Field two years ago, watching as each pass to to the slot receiver resulted in another mind-boggling first down. What had happened to the hammering hits? Where was the fear? In the words of Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is going on out there!?!”
Now as one hand washes the other, so does the rushing game compliment the passing deficiencies in the middle. Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Adrian Peterson, Jamal Charles, have all relished the opportunity to shove the proverbial knife into our collective gullet. You could fault the defensive line, but when the second level folds like crisp origami, the writing is on the wall.
San Francisco is the perfect example of our ongoing problem. In the first game of the 2012 season there was still QB Alex Smith, and even without Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers had HB Frank Gore averaging 7 yards a carry. Compound that with the read-option in the playoff loss where Kaepernick and Gore battered the Packers for 300 yards on the ground.
The silver lining in this ordeal would most likely be the imminent return of Desmond Bishop. But with his hamstring and lingering injury issues, pessimism is well founded. Brad Jones is a competent cog in the wheel but not a difference maker when it comes to turnovers and game-changing plays.
One intriguing resolution that could help would be in the second year standout, Dezman Moses. Now I know that Moses plays outside linebacker, but with the physical attitude, and ability to rush the passer ( four sacks last year in six games started) could he be the answer?
Terrell Manning could also be an interesting fix, with his ability to scout the ball out of the air (five interceptions in his collegiate career, three in his senior season alone) Manning could be an upgrade to a struggling pass defense.
Neglecting the middle is like neglecting the body in boxing. Sooner or later someone is going to attack it, and as far as the Packers go, they are ready to get the wind knocked out of them.