Ready for a bold statement?
The Green Bay Packers’ defense – well, technically the secondary – is the biggest strength of the 2016 squad. Yes, this team includes an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, a healthy Jordy Nelson and (what he hope is) a slim and trim Eddie Lacy.
But some early OTA reports show that the defensive backfield is operating with more cohesion than any other unit – and it should come as a surprise to no one.
Even with the loss of former ROY Casey Hayward, the youth and promise (Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter), mixed with veteran leadership (Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde) and downright freakish athleticism (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix…and Sam Shields again), culminate into what is one of the most well-balanced and exciting units in the league.
According to Football Outsiders 2015 defensive efficiency ratings, the Packers’ pass defense ranked sixth in weighted defense*.
*Weighted defense (per Football Outsiders’ analytics) is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
As Randall came into his own as a boundary corner and Rollins served an important function in nickel and dime sets, the rest of the secondary seemed to mold around them – and as an entity – became tough to throw on.
While they’re far from unblemished, this unit has an entire season together under their respective belts – and now another entire offseason to work in unison. Should these DBs continue along the same trajectory, they could insert themselves into the conversation for best in the NFL.
A lot of the credit is due to Packers’ defensive backs coach, Joe Whitt. Whitt has been at the helm since 2009, and has had the luxury of coaching the likes of Nick Collins, Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, et cetera.
It’s tough to argue that this current group can compare to a secondary with future HOF DB Woodson, and a guy in Collins whose surefire All Pro career was cut short due to injury, but this group has the potential to come close.
Imperative to Whitt’s success – and further explained in this Wall Street Journal piece from January – is the organization’s philosophy of promoting from within and helping to construct good habits early on.
Additionally, neither Rollins nor Randall played corner as their primary positions in college, meaning Whitt was able to instill good technique early on – helping both athletes develop into the Packers’ scheme without having to unlearn certain things.
There is plenty of experience (Shields and Burnett are entering their eighth and seventh seasons, respectively), combined with raw, malleable talent in younger players like Clinton-Dix, Randall and Rollins.
Maybe my statement wasn’t as bold as I thought.