“Defense wins championships.” It’s a quote that gets thrown around far too often by NFL fans. It’s also difficult to disprove that it’s not true, case in point, last year’s Super Bowl.
The Green Bay Packers defense has not been up to par since they won Super Bowl XLV. This offseason they signed Julius Peppers and used a first-round selection on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to help solidify a once promising defense. The Packers will also welcome back cornerback Casey Hayward and All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews from injury.
All of these developing stories scream a much-improved defense.
So where does the improvement need to happen the most?
The defensive line.
The defensive line doesn’t normally get the credit they are due in a 3-4 defense. The line makes the machine work. Without the line taking up blockers, the linebackers can’t get through the lanes to the quarterback or running back. Without the pressure being generated by the linebackers or the line itself, the secondary is left to fend for itself. All of those issues have plagued the Packers’ defense the last couple years.
The biggest Packers headline this offseason was by far the addition of Julius Peppers. Not only does the addition of Peppers add a formidable pass rushing threat, but also a new defensive scheme, the elephant position. You’ve probably heard of the elephant position by now, but if you haven’t, watch a video of Charles Haley and you’ll get an idea of what it will look like.
It’s difficult to say what we will get out of Peppers this season. Will he get 10 or more sacks? It’s really hard to say at this point. But to have a guy that demands respect will take some of the pressure off of Clay Matthews. The days of double-teaming and sometimes triple-teaming one player should be long gone.
B.J. Raji will also be returning on a one-year “prove it” contract. Raji will be returning to the position that he is most comfortable at – nose tackle. Raji should be super motivated after hitting the free agent market during the offseason, which left him with very little interest beyond Green Bay.
Even though Peppers is 34 years old, the Packers have started a youth movement of sorts. No longer will Ryan Pickett be anchoring down a spot on the line after eight years with the Packers. Johnny Jolly had a good comeback season after being out of football since 2009, but a neck injury has kept Jolly off of the roster as of now.
It will be exciting to see how Mike Daniels will handle his expanded role. Daniels is slowly becoming one of the best pass rushing 3-4 ends in the NFL right now. For those of you who do not know about Daniels, check out this great piece done recently by Ray Rivard.
Datone Jones will be relied on heavily to avoid any sophomore slump and provide some minutes after a relatively quiet rookie campaign. Jones has the athletic ability that the Packers are looking to utilize this year and he also has a full year under his belt. Hopefully he won’t disappear as often as he did last year.
The Packers will also be expecting the return of Jerel Worthy. Worthy only saw time in two regular season games last year after dealing with injuries since the end of the 2012 campaign. If Worthy can stay healthy and become at least a reliable #2 guy coming off of the bench, it will be a huge improvement.
The Packers will have a new rookie on the line after selecting Khyri Thornton in the third round of this year’s draft. Thornton, like Daniels, plays with a motor that doesn’t stop, a “high effort” guy. Thornton has the ability to impress early and work his way up the depth chart with so many unproven players behind the starters.
Lastly, Letroy Guion and Josh Boyd will look to fill out the line for the Packers. Guion was brought in as a free agent this season by way of Minnesota. Josh Boyd, on the other hand, saw his minutes increase late into last season after some injuries plagued the line. Both players are in the same boat as Worthy, the more minutes, the better.
The Packers truly have the ability to be a special team this season. A top 15 defense to go along with our highly potent offense could spell problems for any team that gets in the way.
But it all starts in the trenches.