Packers: Changes on defense might not come immediately

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30: Head coach Mike Pettine of the Cleveland Browns looks on during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30: Head coach Mike Pettine of the Cleveland Browns looks on during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Despite hiring Mike Pettine, the Green Bay Packers have a lot of work to do on defense.

Mike Pettine is now in charge of the Green Bay Packers’ defense after Dom Capers was let go from the staff after nine seasons.

The Packers have been poor on the defensive side of the ball for seven straight seasons. Finally this past offseason, the team began shaking things up, firing longtime defensive coordinator Capers in addition to parting ways with three position coaches.

While the team’s reported top choice was Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Packers scooped up Pettine to lead their defense after it began looking more and more like Fangio would return to Chicago.

Pettine has developed a reputation in NFL circles as being a talented defensive mind with plenty of experience leading subpar units to extreme success on the field.

As defensive coordinator of the Jets in 2009, Pettine’s defense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL despite Darrelle Revis being the only player opposing teams had to game plan for.

Over the next four seasons, Pettine’s defensive rankings slipped each year, but only as low as No. 10 in the league as coordinator of the Jets and later the Bills.

The move was a solid hire by the Packers who simply had to find a new, fresh mind to plug into the role vacated by Capers.

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The Packers, however, do have a certain set of problems on defense that are no closer to being fixed after hiring Pettine. Very few coordinators across the league could make the current defensive unit of the Packers one of the top few in the league.

The defensive line is young and weak against the pass. The linebackers are slow and poor in coverage. The secondary’s best player last year was Damarious Randall, which says everything.

Pettine will not be able to arrive and simply transform the unit all on his own, without a significant change in personnel on the defensive side of the ball.

The other problem here is that Green Bay may have simply changed coordinators without actually changing anything.

The disconnect in recent years between Ted Thompson and Capers has been that Capers used an elaborate, complicated scheme that made it difficult for all the inexperience Thompson continuously put on the field.

Pettine’s defenses in the past have featured the same type of complexity and diversity in scheme that the Packers have had under Capers. Pettine’s ideas may be fresh and more evolved, but new general manager Brian Gutekunst will have to add experience and depth to the unit to make it work.

For starters, the Packers have to find a pass rush.

Thompson made Nick Perry one of the highest paid pass rushers in the game after signing him to a $59 million contract. Perry did not live up to that contract in the slightest, creating a huge need for a pass rusher on defense.

Clay Matthews isn’t the player he used to be, while backups Kyler Fackrell and Vince Biegel provided nothing rushing the passer all season.

Ahmad Brooks was a nice one-year rental, but the team has to find younger, faster options off the edge. Blake Martinez had a strong year in the middle of the defense, but has no depth behind him and needs someone next to him to help make the unit more athletic.

Jake Ryan was solid against the run in 2016, but struggled to defend the pass. In 2017, he regressed against the run and didn’t see as much time on the field.

Joe Thomas missed most of the year with injury, and the team had virtually nobody behind Thomas to help spell Martinez.

Roquan Smith, the Georgia Bulldogs middle linebacker, will be available for the team in all likelihood at No. 14, where the Packers pick in the upcoming draft. Such a pairing with Martinez could transform the Packers’ front seven from soft and inferior, to physical and dominant.

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The secondary will also have to be replenished.

The unit is desperate for a No. 1 cornerback, something the team has lacked since the loss of Sam Shields. Damarious Randall has been one of the league’s worst defensive backs since being drafted in the first round out of Arizona State, and Quinten Rollins has been even worse.

Morgan Burnett has been good as the team’s quarterback on defense, but is often injured and horrible against the run.

Even though the Packers would like to add experience and not have too much youth on defense, Gutekunst should let Burnett out the door.

Burnett has been too weak defending the run and not consistent enough defending the pass to warrant another long-term contract, particularly when the Packers are ponying up cash to give Aaron Rodgers a potentially historic new contract.

This makes Ted Thompson’s selection of Josh Jones all the more important in last year’s draft.

The changing of the guard at the coordinator position was a necessary one for the Packers. Dom Capers’ unit was getting worse by the minute, making hiring a new coach a priority.

But Gutekunst and what remains of the Packers’ staff after losing several key contributors to other opportunities, will have an important job to do.

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The Packers can change their coaches and find all the fresh Gatorade on the sideline they want, but until they invest in a better group of players on the field, it will be more of the same come next season.