The Green Bay Packers finished the 2013 season ranked 25th in the league in defense, and another early exit in the playoffs from a more balanced opponent has left a lot to be desired for the Packers on the defensive side of the ball.
The key to every good defense in today’s NFL is generating quarterback pressure.
Just look at the Super Bowl Champs. Seattle not only put together the top defensive unit last season, but they were one of the league leaders in getting after the quarterback.
According to Pro Football Focus, Seattle’s defense finished 2013 with a whopping 337 quarterback pressures. Pressures being the accumulation of sacks, quarterback hits, and quarterback hurries.
A similar theme rings true with the other top defensive clubs from last season. Kansas City tallied 321 pressures. San Francisco 304. Buffalo 326. And Arizona with an incredible 358 times they got after the quarterback successfully.
Coincidently, according to PFF, these were the five defenses that also earned the highest overall grades in 2013.
Now, turn to Green Bay.
The Packers’ 253 pressures in 2013 fell well short of the mark set by the top defensive clubs. The Packers’ pass rush was only ranked 29th in the league by PFF, revealing a glaring need going into this offseason.
It may be stating the obvious, but Green Bay’s defense needs to do a better job at getting after the quarterback.
One thing the top defenses in the league have that the Packers didn’t have last season–or haven’t had for some time now–is a handful of guys who can generate quarterback pressure.
Yes, the Packers have Clay Matthews, who is without a doubt one of the best in the game at rushing the passer when healthy. However, Matthews’ struggle with injuries the past few seasons have severely crippled the Packers defense.
Green Bay needs to get Matthews back and healthy, but they also need other players to step up, especially when he’s absent.
After Neal and Daniels, the production in the pass rush dropped off.
Matthews still managed 32 pressures despite missing six games (including playoff loss) and playing another seven with a cast on his right hand.
Nick Perry only finished with 25 pressures in another injury-laden season, and first-round pick Datone Jones added 18 pressures as a rookie, being the only other pass rusher on the Packers roster with more than a dozen pressures on the season.
These numbers may not seem all that bad, especially considering the litany of injuries the Packers front seven had to endure last season, but when compared to other defenses around the league, it’s clear the Packers need more out of their pass rushers.
They generate pressure by committee.
The other top defenses from 2013 paint a similar picture:
Get the picture?
The Packers would not only like to get more production out of players like Neal, Perry, and Jones, but they also brought in a guy who averaged 56 pressures per season over the past four years in Julius Peppers, who could breathe some new life into their pass rush.
If anyone knows how to disrupt the quarterback it’s Peppers. With over 118 career sacks to his name, Peppers brings something to the Packers defense they haven’t had since before Dom Capers took over the group in 2009.
That is another pass rushing threat to line up opposite of Matthews. A guy who can take some attention off the Packers top pass rusher and pick up the slack if No. 52 happens to miss a handful of games next season.
And this is not to take anything away from what Neal, Perry, Daniels, and Jones could bring this season as pass rushers.
But if the Packers want to push this defense to the next level and compete with some of the top teams in the league, they need more guys that can generate over 40 pressures a season.
Peppers can do this even at the age of 34.
And with getting looks at both outside linebacker and defensive line, Peppers’ versatility should also allow other young ascending players, like Neal, Daniels, and Perry, to face more favorable matchups on the field and be more effective pass rushers.