It was a tale of two halves for the Green Bay Packers in terms of its run defense last season, and it may be the biggest question facing the team heading into the 2015 season.
The Packers finished 20th overall in the NFL allowing 4.3 yards per carry. They were often embarrassing in the first half of the year allowing 4.8 yards per carry and really tightened it up in the second half allowing 3.5 yards per carry. The difference was Clay Matthews moving to inside linebacker. His athleticism and ability to read the play and shoot the gaps made all the difference compared to having Brad Jones or A.J.Hawk in there.
Also, moving Matthews in the middle allowed the Packers to get Nick Perry in more on running downs. Perry is much better setting the edge against the run than Matthews is on the outside because Perry’s best attribute is his strength. Matthews was often too aggressive on the outside against the run and would be looking to get up field too soon. Teams were taking advantage of that early on in the season.
Does having Matthews back on the inside in 2015 guarantee that the run defense will be like the one we saw in the second half of the season? The Packers seem to think so, because they did nothing in the offseason to upgrade the front-seven personnel. The most surprising aspect of the Packers’ draft was that they did not spend a premium pick on either a defensive lineman or an outside linebacker. Perry, Mike Daniels, Mike Neal, B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion are all in the final year of their contracts and Ted Thompson always plans a year in advance when it comes to replacing players he may lose.
It was also surprising because the defensive line isn’t a particular strength of the Packers. They have lots of depth between Daniels, Raji, Guion, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Mike Pennel and Kyri Thornton, but how many of those guys are really good players? Daniels is really the only one who you can say with complete certainty is more than just a guy and stopping the run isn’t the strength of his game. The Packers have had a need for that really long and tall 3-4 defensive end for years and they still have not filled it. A of type player like Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell would really change the look of the Green Bay defense. Of course it’s hard to find guys like that.
Dom Capers isn’t one to help the run defense because his base defense tends to be the nickel, which seems to be the norm around the NFL these days. Most teams would rather you move the ball in short yardages down the field rather than killing them with long passes. Often times Capers never committed more numbers to defending the run even when his defense was getting gashed, so don’t expect it to change much.
Most Packers fans would say that the secondary is the biggest concern, but it’s still the run defense. The secondary has a lot more talent than the defensive line does. There’s just no real prototypical run stuffers in there and the Packers have to prove that their second half run defense last year was no fluke.