I got to thinking this week about when the last time the Packers had this much talent on defense, and of course the first squad that jumped to mind was the 2010 Super Bowl winning unit.
I hate to say this, but the last Packers Super Bowl run is starting to reach that point in my memory bank where the finite details are getting a little hazy. It probably doesn’t help that I was a freshly minted 21 year old, and was zealously supporting my team with innumerable fermented beverages at the time.
Was the Packers 2010 defense REALLY that good, or did they just coalesce at the perfect time?
Let’s take a look at how this years Packers defense stacks up against the 2010 Super Bowl winners.
My memory and heart said that the 2010 secondary was what propelled them to their eventual Super Bowl title, and with future Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson leading that unit it’s not a bad take. More on that later.
But looking more closely, it was really the fearsome front three of BJ Raji, Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins that made that unit elite.
It’s a tired adage, but there is no substitute to winning in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
In addition to the starting trio, the Packers had some solid depth as well. Notably Howard Green was a great mid season addition who was a massive run-stuffer up the middle. CJ Wilson and Jarius Wynn also played meaningful snaps in the playoffs.
The 2022 D-line group compares somewhat favorably to the 2010 group, but could end up even better if a couple of things work out in their favor.
Kenny Clark is Cullen Jenkins..except he’s better. That’s no slight against Cullen Jenkins, who I feel was criminally underrated in his Green Bay/NFL tenure. But when Kenny is on, he can takeover a game.
I think the Ryan Pickett comparison comes in the form of a combination of Jarran Reed and TJ Slaton. Reed offers more pass rush than Pickett did (although at this stage in his career that’s not a certainty). Slaton is someone that could surprise if his effort and conditioning improve, at worst he’s a plug-and-play obvious run stopper. Neither player individually is probably as good currently as Pickett was in 2010.
The biggest wild card is the new guy, Devonte Wyatt.
If this unit wants to match or surpass the 2010 group, Wyatt has to play like BJ Raji.
Wyatt is the same age now (24) that Raji was during the 2010 run.
Wyatt does not have the gaudy sack numbers that Raji had coming out of Boston College, but Wyatt was a member of one of the deepest and most talented defenses in college football history at Georgia.
Conclusion: On the surface, the 2022 unit falls just short of the talent of the 2010 group. If the Packers can get solid production out of Reed/Slaton and Wyatt makes good on his size/athleticism combo they could surprise.
The 2010 linebacker group was highlighted by the all-time great Clay Matthews, a guy who we wanted to be an all-time great in AJ Hawk, and a guy who was pretty darn good in Desmond Bishop.
Looking back, it’s pretty incredible that the defense was able to hold things together after enduring injury after injury.
Nick Barnett, Brad Jones, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga all ended up on season-ending IR and all had been starters at some point previously.
The group above was replaced by the likes of Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Rob Francois. They really filled in admirably, showing that bottom of the roster guys are NFL players as well with Zombo and Walden continuing on to longish careers with other teams.
Clay, Desmond and AJ were the three guys that mattered.
I fully expect this year Rashan Gary will come close to matching the 13.5 sacks that Clay Matthews had in 2010, while playing bruising run defense as well.
If Clay had any edge rushing help in 2010 to take the pressure off of him, he probably would have had 20 QB takedowns.
That’s where Preston Smith enters the conversation. Many are quick to say (myself included!) that the Packers don’t have enough edge rusher depth after losing Za’Darius Smith. Just look at the what the Packers were able to do with a stout defensive line and one premium edge rusher in 2010.
Desmond Bishop had arguably his best season in 2010, and if we can see a repeat from De’Vondre Campbell this year after his masterful 2021 season I think the scales could already be tipped in the favor of this years squad.
It’s yet to be determined what kind of role specifically rookie Quay Walker will have on this defense, but I fully expect that he will be on the field a lot. He has maybe a little less polish than AJ Hawk, but a hell of a lot more athleticism.
Conclusion: I think the ILB/OLB group in 2022 is a clear winner over the 2010 unit, that’s without even talking about promising depth in Jonathan Garvin, Randy Ramsey, Krys Barnes & rookie JJ Enagbare.
I can’t help but feel a little wistful when talking about the 2010 secondary. Two of my all-time favorite Packers in Nick Collins & Charles Woodson we’re critical components.
I’ve really always been enamored with corners and safeties, which is ironic because I mostly closely resemble an offensive lineman in build.
The Super Bowl winning DB group will go down as one of the most talented in the Packers modern era. Facilitated by the late great Ted Thompson breaking his own rules to sign the supremely talented (and oft-injured) Charles Woodson away from the Oakland Raiders.
Thompson also struck gold by signing undrafted free agents Tramon Williams and Sam Shields in addition to drafting Nick Collins out of BETHUNE-FREAKING-COOKMAN (take that, Mel Kiper) and Morgan Burnett.
The 2010 team also had solid depth in safety Charlie Peprah (who started 11 games in 2010), Jarrett Bush (great special teamer, unfortunate in coverage), hard hitting Atari Bigby and eventual second round bust Pat Lee.
As much as I love Jaire Alexander, and I really, really love Jaire. The current Packers secondary does not feature a generational talent like Charles Woodson.
That said, I think the Packers 2022 back end matches up very favorably overall with the 2010 squad.
Like Woodson, neither Adrian Amos nor Darnell Savage are as uniquely talented as Nick Collins. But, I think the combination of Amos & Savage is better than Collins & Peprah or Collins & Bigby or Collins & Burnett.
The 1-2-3 of Jaire, Eric Stokes & Rasul Douglas is so damn close to Woodson, Tramon & Shields it’s scary.
Conclusion: I’m going to give the slightest edge to the 2010 defensive back group, just because it featured a hall-of-famer in Woodson, and perhaps a second hall-of-famer if not for injury in Nick Collins. But despair not, we haven’t really even seen this 2022 group at full strength together and I think the sum of parts could be every bit as good, if not better than the legendary 2010 crew.
In summary, the Packers 2022 defense is going to be really damn good.
If you’re just talking about preferred starters, I think this team could easily surpass the 2010 squad in potential.
But as we know, the weekly grind of the NFL leaves you filling unexpected holes at the worst possible times. That was what was particularly special in 2010, the defense embraced adversity and persevered.
Will this years squad follow suit?
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.