Tag Archives: Packers defense

A Moral Victory of Sorts

In a 16-game schedule, moral victories are usually worthless or reserved for average to below-average teams. But, for this Packers team, Sunday’s performance was a moral victory.

The Packers were shorthanded (as they always seem to be) without Burnett and Hayward, and were starting a rookie LT and second-year, undrafted RT against arguably the best front-seven in football. Yet, despite a minus-2 turnover differential and a really poor day in the return game that left the offense in precarious starting field positions, the Packers held a lead at the halfway point of the 4th Quarter. They were just hanging ’round – alligator blood.

It was a resilient effort – which explains the moral victory. The Packers absolutely shut down the 49ers rushing offense, which was the 4th best last season. The front-seven played with tenacity and energy that has been sorely lacking in recent years. Claymaker was playing with reckless abandon (which ultimately proved costly with the late hit), Raji and Pickett were plugging the middle and making plays down the line, and Nick Perry was setting a hard edge. And I’d be remiss not to mention Jolly’s presence and solid play. It’s hard not to notice the energy he brings not only on the field, but also being a leader on the sideline.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers got nothing going in the run game – which, frankly, wasn’t all that shocking against that defense. But, I’d still call it a successful day for the young line. The biggest indicator of this is the fact that MM did not have to devote another blocker or two to help the young tackles. As a result, the offense was allowed to run their normal offense with multiple receivers sets and not worry about Rodgers getting blasted. And, let’s be honest, for the most part, Rodgers had time to make plays. With that being said, it was disappointing seeing that Sitton proved to be the biggest downfall at times – three penalties from him is unacceptable.

Ultimately, the downfall was our secondary – which, ironically enough, was hailed as our deepest position group coming out of the preseason. I’ll be the first to admit, this onslaught caught me off guard. Boldin is a nice player, but he’s not a 200-yard WR type. He absolutely killed us in the slot, abusing McMillian, Hyde, and Jennings. We simply did not have an answer.

Post-game comments suggest it could have been the result of our game plan to contain the read-option. Maybe. But, I think it had more to do with our inexperience in the back-end and he/them taking full advantage. The losses of Burnett and Hayward proved to be the difference. And unfortunately, both have hammy issues that seem to be the multiple-week variety.

So, the Packers start the season 0-1 again. But, Packers fans have to feel pretty good coming out of this loss. The Packers showed an intensity and resiliency that have been missing. A finesse team showed grit and toughness. And that bodes well going forward.

Border Battle: Lots of Ugliness

While enduring an ugly game, we exchanged pleasantries analyzing what was a crucial game for both teams. The 103rd installment of this rivalry proved dramatic, while ugly.

Packers Roob: 

You ready to roll!?! Packers get ball to start. They are terrible this season on their first drive. It’d be huge to get some points to start fast!

TOUCHDOWN!!! Pack march down the field. Jones posterizes Jefferson with a sick TD grab! Two notes: JMike caught the first pass his way – can’t be a good omen for Vikings fans – and the Packers had a semblance of a running game. As I said in the preview, this could get ugly!

Vikings Rube:

Well, it seems the horseshoe that was lodged firmly up Bielema’s derriere last night was airmailed to Green Bay in time for the start of today’s tilt. Finley and Jones catch balls they normally would bat down like they are in rec league volleyball game?!? Not a good sign at all for the Vikes.

Then, following a quick three and out on offense, the Vikes defense finally slows down the Rodgers train in the red zone. Only to have Crosby doink one in off the upright. I think the Vikings primary goal should be locating and destroying that horseshoe. After all, they are not spending any time scheming anything that resembles an offensive game plan.

Packers Roob:

What are you talking about?! Packers got screwed by another phantom holding call that erased another TD. Tough enough to win in this league when you are playing the team. But, it’s not fun having a twelfth man in the zebras to contend with as well! Just garbage.

Worst news is Jordy tweaked his hammy. Story of the season. Jennings returns, Jordy goes down.And here comes the Vikes’ direct-snap to AP offense

Vikings Rube:

Always right to the officials. Typical. Losing Jordy definitely helps the Vikes, but no one wants to wish for a guy to hurt. Hopefully he is okay.

In more exciting news, how about that direct-snap to AP offense!! Sprinkle in a little bootleg and an elite TE, bake at 350 for 14 minutes, and touchdown!!! All seriousness aside, that was definitely Dr. Ponder on that drive. He looked methodical, making most of the right decisions. And of course, the best RB on the planet did his thing too.

Now, following the three and out of the Packers offense, we get to see if it was all just a fluke…

Packers Roob:

Ugh. I hate the Kuhn handoff play. 2 times for 0 yards and a missed 3rd-and-1. Bag that play please!

Are the Packers cursed?!?! Lang just got his ankle rolled up on. Next man up… is there a next man left?!? Unreal.

Vikings Rube:

As I said before, no one likes to see guys get hurt. And you are right, Lang’s injury reaaaaally hurts. Hopefully he can come back later in the game.

That being said, what a brutal call on Griffen!! That was not a personal foul!!!!!! I cannot stop typing exclamation points. Takes an INT away from ole Ten Gallon. Despite the injuries, the horseshoe appears to be back.

Packers Roob:

I was right about this getting ugly. Just not what part. This O-line with Barclay will have Rodgers running for his life the entire game. I just want to thank Griffen for placing a lot of $$ on the Packers. What else would explain his three stupid penalties so far?!

I also want to thank the Vikes coaching staff for sidelining AP during their last possession of the second-half. A gift 3-and-out for the defense.

Vikings Rube:

The offsides penalties were legit, but that roughing the passer call was tewible. Not even close. And then Jared Allen takes a stupid penalty to give Crosby a chance?!?!? Thankfully there are not any uprights near the corner of the end zone. Just not a strong finish from the Vikes.

Packers Roob:

This is disgusting. Even without AP’s ridiculous run, Packers are getting manhandled right now. The quick start did not give way to a dominating effort. Instead, the injuries to the line has opened the flood-gates to Rodgers. And the run game has all but vanished. The result is an offense that can’t move the ball – even against this defense.

And, oh yeah, Crosby sucks. Time to bring in Kaeding.

2nd Half

Packers Roob:

Did I mention Crosby sucks?!?

Vikings Rube:

As if there were any lingering doubts, Mr. Ponder is back!!! Ponder loses his mind, thinks he is Joe Cool, and tries to throw across his body to THE Michael Jenkins in the back of the end zone. Tewible decision and Christmas comes early for Morgan Burnett. This could be the turning point of the game. Vikings looking to get another TD right out the gates and Mr. Ponder takes it away. Not good.

Packers Roob:

More great play-calling by the Vikes. AP is single-handedly winning this game for the Vikes. On short goal-to-go, Vikes get clever and go play-action. Mr. Ponder rewards them with a great pass to Morgan Burnett.

Rodgers is trying to take this game over. He willed them into FG range. And in a shock, Crosby split the uprights! Blind squirrel theory in play.

Cool play design on Cobb toss-back to Rodgers for deep bomb. INT is good as punt. But, if there was ever a need for further proof that the Packers play-action is non-existent, this play is Exhibit A. First time ever running a throw-back with Cobb and no one was open.

Vikings Rube:

Stop me if you heard this one, despite dominating for much of the first half, the Vikings have come out in the 2nd half with no adjustments or schemes to counter 15 guys in the box. Following the go-ahead TD by the Pack, the Vikes look primed for another 4 yards and a cloud of dust. Is Bill Cowher ready to come back to coaching??

Packers Roob:

Seriously, the Vikes should direct-snap it to AP every play!! Ponder is just awful. 5/13 for 36 yards and 2 INT’s. I’m actually worried we might see the re-start of the Joe Webb era.

Vikings Rube:

Remember in our prediction we talked about how Ponder needed to do just enough to get out of AP’s way. As it stands right now, he has been the Packers best way to stop Adrian. And if not for Ponder, Peterson might have 300 yards on the ground. Of course, that would require coaches that know when to run the ball and to pass it. Seems like asking a lot.

Packers Roob:

Like I said, Rodgers is willing this team to victory. And he did on this prolonged game-clinching drive – 11:00 minutes in fact. Multiple third-down conversions, many long distances too, and killed the clock and hopes of the Vikes. Crosby clutches up and nailed a 31-yarder – down the middle even – to apply the dagger (knock on wood)!

Vikings Rube:

There is no doubt. Rodgers was the difference. We agreed on that coming in and it could not have been more true. His ability to pick up 3rd downs against the Vikings base defense, because evidently Allan Williams thought we were not allowed to blitz, was clutch. Have to give him credit for that.

Packers Roob:

Blair Walsh evidently went to the Crosby school of kicking. And there, officially, is your dagger!

Final Score: Packers 23 Vikings 14

Closing Thoughts

Vikings Rube:

52-2. That was the record for teams who had a player run for more than 200 yards. Only the Vikes could find a way to add to that kind of record in a negative way. AP was a beast today. With even decent QB play, the Vikings win this game. Mr. Ponder throws two red zone picks killing two Vikings drive. That is at least 6 points and possible 14 points off the board. And those are just the direct examples of his tewibleness. Add in the fact that most college QBs could complete the downfield throw to AP when he had two steps on the linebacker – that is likely another 6.

Now, I know the Vikes were without Harvin. And you cannot overstate his importance to this team. But unless Mr. Ponder figures out how to limit the mistakes and make smart plays, this team will not challenge for the playoffs. They will only go as far as AP will take them. And 200+ yards is evidently not enough.

Packers Roob:

Rodgers simply willed this team to victory. The 11-minute game-clinching drive was clutch – an exhibit of elite QB play. He converted multiple third-and-longs on the way to a clinching FG.

Beyond Rodgers’ play, the running game showed up down the stretch. Packers amassed 152 yards against a decent run-stopping unit – and that’s behind an offensive line that is primarily a bunch of backups. And though the defense let AP go gangbusters – not sure any defense could contain him right now – it did what it had to do in forcing the critical turnovers. The poor tackling needs to be shored up.

As always, Packers fans will be watching injury reports closely this week. Pack can ill-afford another injury to a lineman. And Jordy’s hamstring injury basically puts the passing attack back in the same position it was in while Jennings was out. Next man up, as always, but we’re getting dangerously close to not having a next man up.

The Impact of Woodson’s Injury

The improved Packers defense is well-positioned to handle the loss of its leader.

News broke mid-afternoon that Charles Woodson is out for 6-weeks due to a broken collarbone, the same collarbone he broke in Super Bowl XLV. It’d be fair to think that replacing an 8-time Pro Bowler, 2009 Defensive MVP, and a pure playmaker in the secondary would be difficult for a defense fresh off putting together one of the worst statistical seasons ever for a collective defense. Amazingly, that’s not the case with this new and young defense.

At age 36, there is no denying the fact that Woodson has lost a step. Because of this, he moved to safety in the base defense and plays the slot in sub-packages. His savviness, game knowledge, and veteran leadership have enabled him to seamlessly make this transition. But, his stats bear out the fact he’s not the player he once was.

In the 7 games so far, Woodson has only 1 INT, 1 FF, and 1.5 sacks. His tackling numbers are consistent with years past, though he has more assisted tackles this year already than all of last year. These numbers support what the eye can see. He’s simply not the playmaker we’ve grown accustomed to over these past seven seasons. And he’s been getting called for holding and clutching WR’s like he hasn’t in years past.

In Woodson’s place will slide a number of young and talented DB’s. In the base package, you can expect more Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings, the same safeties that take over in the sub-packages. McMillian is the more willing tackler of the two and has already shown a knack for being strong in run support. I expect to see more of McMillian in the base for this reason.

In sub-packages, which the Packers play greater than two-thirds of the plays, the Packers are sitting pretty with four young players that have proven they belong: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey “All I Do Is Catch Interceptions” Hayward, and Davon House. Of course, Williams will man the outside along with Shields when he returns. Hayward will get the nod for Woodson’s role. This is a fitting replacement given Casey’s knack for the ball. And when the Pack go dime, they still bring in Davon House – who very well could be the starting CB in place of Shields had he not gotten injured. In his first game back, House showed well last weekend with strong, physical play, and showing mostly tight coverage. Needless to say, the Packers are well-stocked with four players that could all start for many NFL teams.

The biggest unknown will be how much Woodson factored into getting the defense aligned pre-snap. It will be incumbent upon Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams to become the vocal leaders in the defensive backfield.

It is also worth noting that the Packers’ schedule sets up nicely for the six games Woodson will miss. Two games remain before the bye week. Both at home, against offensively challenged teams. Off the bye, the Packers travel to play the free-falling Detroit Lions. The toughest game will be the following weekend at NYG. But then, the sixth week is a home game against the Vikes, who also have challenges in the passing game. If the original prognosis is true, the Packers are well positioned to handle these next six games.

Let’s be clear: Charles Woodson is a special player that, even at an advanced age, brings a lot to the table that cannot be replaced. He’s a pro’s pro and the veteran leader on a young team. Though he’s lost a step, he’s savvy and has made game-changing plays few others could make. But, with a stable of young talent in the defensive backfield, the Packers are well-positioned to handle the six weeks without their defensive leader.

Next Man Up

Coming off ‘The Statement Game’ of the 2012 season, it’s clear that this seasons Packers defense is exactly what this team needs in order to win a Super Bowl. As I explained earlier this year, a top ranked defense is not required for this team to get back to the Super Bowl. Instead, an average, respectable defense will suffice. And so far, the defense has been average, while working on becoming a good defense.

The return to form by the Claymaker is a big reason the defense has improved so much.

The game stats show a defense that has been average: 14th in yards per game and 19th in points per game. But the Packers rank high in game-changing plays: leading the league in sacks with 21, and 10th in the league in takeaways. And this last number will surely rise because the Packers have not recovered a fumble and there have been numerous interceptions dropped in recent games.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from the embarrassment that was the 2011 defense. Unfortunately, the ability for this defense to continue its improvement is in jeopardy because of a rash of injuries at all levels of the defense.

In the defensive backfield, Sam Shields went down with a shin injury and is out for this Sunday’s game. It appears to be a short-term injury. But even with Shields returning to 2010 form, his loss will not be noticed. Stepping into Shields’ shoes will be rookie Casey Hayward. Justifying why TT traded up (and trade-raped The Hoodie) to get him, Hayward has played like a seasoned veteran in limited playing time. Not only has Hayward shown he’s not just the zone-cover man many draftniks pegged him, but he’s also shown a knack for the ball with 3 INT’s so far – two more than the next best rookie.

And replacing Hayward in the sub-packages will be Davon House, the guy that may very well have won Shields’ starting spot had he not suffered a shoulder injury in the first pre-season game. House, in limited time during the pre-season and training camp, had clearly separated himself from the competition with both good coverage and strong, aggressive tackling in run support. Combined with Hayward, the defense should not miss Shields.

The linebackers have been hit the hardest with Nick Perry and D.J. Smith both getting injured. Perry avoided the dreaded ACL injury, but is out for the near future. Smith, on the other hand, suffered a freak knee injury and is already on the season-ending IR list. Still, their losses will likewise be minimal for the defense going forward.

As a first-round pick, Perry has underwhelmed to date. In six starts, he registered only 18 tackles and 2 sacks. The transition to OLB proved a tall task (to date – still too early to say whether he can or cannot make this transition) for the rookie. He was largely ineffective getting to the QB and was lost in coverage. As a result, Erik Walden often saw more playing-time. Though Walden’s number may not reflect it (he only has a half-sack), he seems to be around the QB more and has mounted a steadier pass-rush than Perry. And he certainly is more comfortable in coverage. This doesn’t even account for Dezman Moses, the undrafted free agent star from pre-season. Moses’ tenacity has already earned him a spot in the psycho sub-package and with Perry’s injury, he’s likely to see more playing time.

You would think that D.J. Smith’s injury would be the most crippling to this defense. After all, he’s already the second-string MLB and was an up-and-coming second-year player. But, frankly, Smith’s play has been average at best. Far too often his lack of size was exploited in pass coverage. And, surprisingly, Smith had not been strong in the run game. He often got beat to the edge and wasn’t attacking the ball carrier. As a result, the drop-off in production will likely not be as significant as many expect from a third-stringer.

The most pressing injury to the defense is B.J. Raji. Raji has been ruled out for the second-straight game due to an ankle injury. He practiced in a limited fashion this week. But, wisely, he is being held out until he’s fully healthy. It is imperative that Raji not rush back too soon. Ankle injuries can be fickle. And the defense can ill afford to have Raji deal with a lingering ankle injury.

Unlike other injured defensive starters, Raji returning from his injured ankle is imperative for the continued success on defense.

Don’t let last week fool you. Despite the Packers’ dominating effort last week in holding Foster to under 30-yards rushing, Raji is an important fixture for the future success of this defense and team. He’s a monster up-front and started playing to his talent again this year. He was playing stout against the run, and generated solid and consistent up-the-middle pressure. The Packers simply don’t have another talent like him that can replace him over the long-haul. It is because of this that makes Raji’s injury the most important injury to the defense.

The mounting injuries are harkening many back to the 2010 Super Bowl run. Like that juggernaut, this Packers team must adopt the ‘Next Man Up’ mantra to survive this recent rash of injuries. But, because of the depth this team has built up, the Packers have players ready to step up and ensure there will be little to no drop-off in production for most of the injured players.

What the Hell is Going On Out There?!

Both the Gophers and Vikings end the week with better records than the Badgers and Packers. As Vince said, “What the hell is going on out there?!?!?” The most disappointing aspect of the Packers loss is the fact that so little has changed from last year’s problems.

The Packers “boasted” one of the worst defenses in the league last year. Hemorrhaging yards and big plays, the defense was painful to watch. It couldn’t apply any pressure on opposing QB’s, couldn’t get off the field on 3rd downs, and sound tackling was a figment of our imagination. All pre-season, we heard about the upgrades at crucial positions and how much the fundamentals were emphasized. Things were going to be different. Well, what happens week 1 against Alex Smith – yes, that Alex Smith – & Co.? The defense allowed Smith to orchestrate 5 straight scoring drives, made Frank Gore and the player formerly known as Randy Moss relevant for one week, and still struggled tackling – I’m looking at you Morgan Burnett.

And even with Claymaker’s 2.5 sacks, the Packers got little pressure throughout the game. Capers was forced to bring heavy blitzes in the second half to create some sort of pressure. But even that was mostly ineffective. Perry has the bull rush, and that’s pretty much it – not to mention he is a huge liability in pass coverage. Worthy, Daniels, etc. were invisible. Moses got little run. And I barely saw Hayward or McMillian out there (though that could be a good sign as in no word from secondary players means they did their job. We can hope.) Just no help from the newcomers. As they say, some things never change.

To pile on those issues, the coaching was poor. In classic MM fashion, he stubbornly attempted to establish a running game at various points in the second half when it was so clearly obvious we weren’t running on them. And then on the first possession of the second half, MM goes for the home-run play on 3rd-and-1. I’m all for aggressive play-calling. But, only when it’s appropriate. That was the wrong spot to get aggressive. We had yet to establish any rhythm on offense and needed to sustain that drive.

The most egregious coaching errors (and one player mental error), though, were at the end of the first half. Down only six despite being dominated for most of the half, the Packers got the ball with just over :50 left at their own 20-yard line. After a short completion on 2nd down, MM called a timeout with around :30+ second left. Coaching error number 1. On the ensuing play, A-Rodg couldn’t find anyone and instead of sliding and keeping the clock running, he threw it away, preserving SF’s last timeout. Player mental error. Reminiscent of Bradshaw’s long scamper to get the G-Men into range for the fateful Hail Mary to end that first half, the 49ers sent in Colin Kaepernick – the backup QB who is well-known for his running – who proceeded to take a QB draw for around 20 yards. An obvious play call that somehow no one on the GB coaching staff saw coming. Coaching error number 2. The result was the 49ers were in “field goal range” – quoted because it was still a 63-yarder. The timeout was way too aggressive, particularly since the 49ers defense is so dominant. And how the players were so woefully unprepared for Kaepernick is unacceptable. You can’t give away free points like that. And even though the Packers lost by 8, the 3 points required the Packers going for 2 and surely made it seem like a more daunting comeback when they needed 2 TDs and 2 successful 2-point conversions.

One of the more disappointing efforts of the afternoon belonged to D.J. Smith. He took poor angles and got shoved off potential tackles. His lack of size was evident out there. Not to be outdone, Hawk was up to his normal play – making tackles 3-5 yards downfield. He made one great play behind the line of scrimmage in the 1st half to force a field goal. Just more of the same.

As for the offense, the 49ers forced the Packers to methodically march down the field with underneath plays. They took away the deep shots and easily handled the alleged Packers running game. Randall Cobb emerged as the star of the offense. Making good on my Percy-Lite comparison, Cobb lined up all over the field – slot, out wide, and in the backfield. Although he didn’t register a carry, he wreaked havoc out of the backfield on quick hits to the flat. MM will get more creative with the burgeoning stud and he will be a big playmaker for the Packers this season.

Often overlooked, James Jones also put together a nice game. He had a couple long gains, and was looked to on a few bombs. He was hosed on a completed bomb because of a phantom offensive pass interference. (Yes, I know he had two arms extended, but the alleged push off didn’t create any unfair separation. No way that’s called by the real refs.) Most impressive for Jones was his YAC. Not known for the same, he made some nice moves and created most of his YAC.

I’d be remiss not highlight the offensive line’s play. Against a formidable front 7, the line held up for the most part. Aldon Smith got his hands on A-Rodg only when Rodgers broke away from the pocket. Justin Smith was never heard from. Newhouse had a bad false start penalty early in the game, continuing a trend from pre-season. But, otherwise, his name or number were never called. All-in-all, it was a pretty solid effort by the O-line. (Of course, this completely ignores the fact they can’t run-block – but we already knew that.)

Finally, it needs to be said. The refs were absolutely horrendous. I think the Packers got the short end of the bad calls – even with that missed block in the back on Cobb’s punt return. Calls were missed all game long. The refs conferenced over almost every call, slowing the game down to a painful level at times. It is simply unacceptable because the refs absolutely had a negative impact on the game. Did they lose the game for the Packers? No. But, they made their mark on the game in a negative way and who knows how the chain of the events impacts the game.

It’s one game. Far too early to read anything more into this other than the Packers got beat by a better team. The 49ers showed last season’s playoff run is no fluke. With a quick turnaround for Thursday’s game, the Packers don’t have time to lick their wounds. A Bears team far improved on offense will be a tough opponent for this defense. Hopefully, this loss lights a fire under the team’s ass, and makes them realize this is a different season and it won’t be so easy this time around.

How Good Does the Packers Defense Need to Be?

The 2011 Packers season was one of the more enjoyable regular seasons for fans. The offense was spectacular, taking most of the drama out of the games. And Rodgers turned in a season for the ages. But the dominant offense masked the glaring weakness – check that, the glaring liability – that was the Packers defense. Posting historical numbers for ineptness, the defense yielded big play after big play, rarely got off the field on 3rd downs, and would’ve been hard-pressed to make even Blaine Gabbert uncomfortable in the pocket. Any chance the Packers win a 5th Lombardi Trophy in 2012 is tied directly to the Packers defense improving, markedly so, from last season.

But exactly how much improvement is necessary in order for the Packers to truly contend for the Super Bowl? After all, 38 out of the 46 Super Bowl winners fielded top-10 defenses, with 22 of those winners having top-3 defenses. Still, last year’s two Super Bowl teams boasted the 27th and 31st “best” overall defenses. My belief is the Packers defense needs to be somewhere in the middle in order to get back to the Super Bowl.

Since 2000, 14 of the 24 teams that played in the Super Bowl fielded top-10 defenses. Only six teams fielded defenses ranked 16 or worse, two of which played last season, as noted above. This tends to support the “defense wins championship” mantra. But, consider that in that same time frame, 15 of 24 Super Bowl teams boasted top-10 offenses, with a whopping 5 teams sporting the best offense in the league. Similarly, only 3 teams were ranked 16 or worse. So, “defense wins championships” is not entirely true.

What these statistics show is that fielding a top defense is not essential to be a Super Bowl contender. But, it does lend credence to the fact that the Packers defense needs to improve in order to put them in contending position. Because the Packers will field one of the top-3 offenses, a defense merely respectable or average should be all that’s necessary. To put it another way, the 2012 Packers defense needs to find the happy-middle between the 2010 defense and the 2011 defense.

In order to make the necessary improvements, the Packers will need immediate contribution from a few rookies and second-year players – not to mention a return-to-form season out of Tramon Williams. Thankfully, the early signs from camp are pointing towards such an improvement.

Most noteworthy has been the competitive battle for the starting CB spot opposite Williams. Davon House is the early leader in the clubhouse, having played with a much sharper sense of urgency and making plays on the ball. Second-round pick Casey Hayward has likewise impressed with his ball-hawking skills and quick assimilation in the system. And after a slow start, Sam Shields seems to have turned the corner and making a push not to lose his starting spot. Finally, it’s impossible to count out Jarrett Bush, who simply refuses to be content as just a special teams star. This battle will go on throughout pre-season and the play during the games will determine who starts. Here’s what each player needs to show during pre-season action to earn that spot:

  • House – play aggressive and show he can man-up in coverage;
  • Hayward – demonstrate his ball-hawking skills and demonstrate he’s not just a zone guy;
  • Shields – must show he’s a willing and able tackler, and cannot continue getting caught looking in the backfield; and
  • Bush – show he is not the liability in coverage he has been in past years.

Most important to the defenses success, though, is the Packers’ ability to get after the quarterback. Enter Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, et al. Perry has been relatively quiet in the first few weeks of camp. By all accounts, he is going through the growing pains of learning a new position and dropping into coverage. Unfortunately, little has also been said about his pass-rushing, which is likely due in large part to the fact he continually goes against Bryan Bulaga – who is fast becoming one of the best, young RTs in the game. But, just recently, Perry broke through with a dominant victory against Bulaga in one-on-one pass rushing  drills, leading some observers to question whether this could be the start of something greater.

Not so quietly has been the emergence of Worthy, the star on defense at the Family Night scrimmage. Ever the yapper on the field, Worthy has breathed life into the dormant DL. He has shown tremendous burst and quickness for a man his size, and should see plenty of playing time with Raji in the nickel. Meanwhile, Daniels was playing very well during the first week of camp before going down with a non-serious leg injury. Assuming he returns healthy, he, too, can provide a spark to the pass rush. Finally, we cannot count out contributions from Hargrove and Neal (after serving their suspensions), and maybe even the undrafted free-agent Dezman Moses.

As shown, defenses do not necessarily win championships. But, what is necessary is a defense that is respectable. In order to regain respectability, the Packers 2012 defense must improve across the board. So far, the reports from camp have been positive. But, it is imperative that this progress carries over into the pre-season games. As Kevin Greene said to Clay, “It’s time!” Starting in San Diego, it’s time to see these young guys step up.