Can Packers Defense Exceed Expectations?

As training camp approaches, the Packers defense will begin to answer questions about whether or not they have made a dramatic improvement from last seasons dismal showing. The poor defensive performance in 2017 was encapsulated by the fact that they allowed opponents to score in every trip that they made to the red zone.

This offseason, the pundits have written about why the Packers defense is sure to be vastly improved from last season.   They have cited an influx of impact rookies and new players, and a new defensive philosophy from newly hired defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

However, the question still remains as to, why it is such a sure thing that the Packers defense will be transformed from a unit that was such a liability, to a unit that can be relied upon in 2018.

For starters, the Packers did hire the aforementioned Mike Pettine, whose past defensive units have had a long-term success rate over the years.  Just how much success did Pettine have you might ask?, well, Pettine’s defenses from the 2009 through 2011 seasons, as well as the 2013 season, each ranked inside of the top 5 defensive units in the NFL.

The only year Pettine’s defense dropped outside of the top 5 was in his last year with the Jets in 2012, where they ranked 9th in the NFL, which is a place in which the Packers have seldom seen in recent years.

Although it is apparent that the blueprint is in place for a successful season, it is fair to ask whether Pettine has his optimal defensive unit in place to deploy his schemes in the best way possible?

I believe that although the Packers made tremendous strides to improve the roster on defense, the answer to this question, at least for right now, still has to be “no”.  At this moment, the Packers defensive unit has talented but unproven members in the secondary along with some question marks at key positions including the edge rushers.

The question with the Packers edge rushers boils down to whether Clay Matthews has anything left in the tank and whether Nick Perry can play for an entire season.

Pettine has arguably the best defensive line in the sport so if Clay Matthews shows he has something left in the tank, Perry remains healthy, and another pass rusher emerges, he could have several weapons to send in blitz packages up the middle to get uncontested sack opportunities at opposing quarterbacks.

In order to answer the question that is the premise of this article, which is whether the Packers defense can exceed expectations, it is essential to examine all three levels of the Packers defense.

If I were to grade the defensive line, edge rushers, and secondary, I would give the defensive line an “A”, the edge rushers a “C”, and the secondary a “C” as well, since this year’s version is very much unproven.

An important aspect not to overlook is the defensive lines elite grade because an elite defensive line can greatly improve an average edge rush and an average secondary by disrupting the timing of the offense and forcing the quarterback to get rid of the ball earlier then he wants to.

If the Packers defensive line can consistently get penetration on their opponents’ offensive lines, the defense will steadily show improvement and be much more reliable than last season.

The question of whether the Packers defense can exceed expectations comes down to whether their young secondary can emerge as impact players and whether Clay Matthews and Nick Perry can stay healthy and take advantage of the defensive line that they are playing behind and accumulate double-digit sacks.

The Answer to the Questions That I Have Been Asking:

Can the Packers defense exceed expectations in 2018? yes.  Will the Packers defense exceed expectations in 2018?, no, but I still expect them to rank somewhere in the middle of the Pack which will be a significant upgrade from last season.


David Michalski is a recent college graduate from Princeton New Jersey who has been a life long Green Bay Packers fan. Like the great Vince Lombardi, he values God, family, and the Green Bay Packers in that order. You can follow him on twitter at @kilbas27dave