Cornerbacks Lead Improved Defense

Through the first quarter of the season, the offense is out of sorts.  There have been flashes to be sure.  Aaron Jones is legit.  Jimmy Graham fits well.  The offensive line has has held up okay.   And Rodgers has been off, but that figures to change.  But the most promising development of this Packers team is the defense.  Most specifically the newly formed group of Packers cornerbacks.

This week, versus Matt Stafford, indoors, will be a great test.  Kevin King has not played since early in the 2nd half versus the Vikings.  His intial replacement, Davon House was a disaster, giving up a bomb to Stephon Diggs and was terrible otherwise this year before being placed on Injured Reserve.  In addition to King’s return, the Packers figure to have Bashaad Breeland, their most recent signing, who was strong enough last year to warrant signing a three year deal worth $24 million with the Panthers this offseason, which was subsequently voided due to a failed physical.  They have five corners that are legitimate.

There have had some dark moments for the defense, with the 4th quarter/overtime vs the Vikings and the 1st half vs the Washington being at the top of the list.  While those were ugly performances, offensive numbers league wide has been nuts.  Video game like.  Even great defenses aren’t consistently dominant.  One’s idea of what good defense looks like needs to adjust.

But consider these statistics:  They lead the league in 3 & Outs, forcing them on 16/47 possessions (34%).  On third down they are holding their opponts to a 51% completion percentage, which is 3rd in the league.  And lastly, the opponents passer rating vs a Packers blitz is 26.1, which also leads the lead.

The latter is of particular significance with their defesne as its currently constituted.  With this group of cornerbacks, blitzing is effective and is something that can be done without significantly risking the big play.  A lack of pure pass rushers, can be made up with, to a point, by having strong cornerbacks and blitz schemes that get home.  It may be surprising to know that  Pettine has blitzed significantly less frequently through his four games than Capers had during his tenure.  This could be because Pettine’s blitzes are more effective.  Or it could be because Pettine has pressure packages that aren’t technically blitzes, but that are still effective.  This is a great example of a Pettine pressure package, which isn’t a blitz because there are only four rushers

Pettine likes the use the term “free runner,” which is exactly what happens here.  Whitehead has a clear path toward the quarterback.  But because its a DB blitz which is Pettine’s modus operani, it means one less DB being used to cover.    And hence one of the reasons why its so important to have several good corners; If Pettine brings one or two DB’s to rush the QB, he still has enough corners on the field to cover as well.

This is why cornerbacks were the focus of Brian Gutenkunst during the offseason, and not pass rushers.

This defense has a lot of life.   This is not something that could be said for the majority of the past decade.  But if this team is to have significant success, the defense, in particular the cornerbacks will be the reason why.

Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz
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