Green Bay Packers can survive edge rusher injuries

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18: Clay Matthews
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18: Clay Matthews /

The Green Bay Packers‘ depth at edge rusher has become a huge concern this week.

Nick Perry left the Denver Broncos game with an ankle injury, and Clay Matthews appears to also be dealing with an unknown injury.

Jayrone Elliott left the game with a back injury, and Vince Biegel has yet to practice due to a foot injury.

The Packers’ already precarious depth has left the team vulnerable at the position. Injuries to some or all of these players could be catastrophic if they occurred in the regular season.

I’ve been as wary as anyone about the Packers’ weakness at edge rusher. But all is not quite lost.

For a blueprint on how to field a Super Bowl defense despite uninspiring depth at outside linebacker, the Packers need only turn to their 2010 team.

That team boasted Clay Matthews at the height of his powers. But opposite him, the team’s Super Bowl roster had Frank Zombo, Erik Walden, Matt Wilhelm, and Diyral Briggs.

Those four players played their roles adequately, and Zombo and Walden were useful in the playoffs. But none of them ever became threats to opposing offenses.

Yet that 2010 defense finished an astonishingly good second in the NFL in points allowed with 240, second only to their Super Bowl opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They haven’t finished in the top 10 in points allowed since.

So how did the 2010 defense succeed?

In addition to an extraordinary Matthews, they were exceptional in the secondary and along the defensive line.

Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and a rookie Sam Shields formed a playmaking cornerback trio. Nick Collins was at his peak as a roving free safety. Rookie B.J. Raji and veteran Cullen Jenkins, meanwhile, combined for 13.5 sacks on the defensive line.

If the Packers can get something close to 2010 play from their corresponding 2017 players, they’ll be able to withstand  injuries and succeed regardless of any poor or medicore play from the outside linebacker position.

That, of course, is a big ask. But it’s not impossible.

Kenny Clark is poised to have a similar breakout season as Raji did in his second season in 2010. And Mike Daniels is probably even better than Jenkins was at his peak.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix might not be quite as good as Collins, but Morgan Burnett far surpasses Charlie Peprah.

Cornerback is a different story. There’s plenty of talent, but no track record of proven production. Between Kevin King, Damarious Randall, Davon House, Quinten Rollins and the other candidates, the Packers need to find three starters who can come close to the 2010 feats of Woodson, Williams and Shields.

That’s a stretch at this point. But who could have foreseen Shields’ stellar rookie year before the 2010 regular season began? Perhaps King, Randall, and/or Josh Hawkins can similarly surprise.

And though there’s certainly no Woodson on this team, the Packers’ deep and versatile talent at safety may be able to help provide similar playmaking.

Next: Injuries Highlight Risk of Preseason

These 2017 Packers need Perry back at full strength. He’s probably the only one capable of constantly harassing quarterbacks and making big-time plays against the run like Matthews did in 2010.

But even if Matthews flashes only occasionally and the other outside linebackers provide just mediocre depth, this defense’s season is not doomed.

Ted Thompson didn’t do Dom Capers any favors this offseason by letting Julius Peppers and Datone Jones go and adding only Vince Biegel.

But if the rest of the defense steps up, anything remains possible for the 2017 Packers.