Packers Defense at the Bye

Morgan Burnett's consistency and Julius Peppers' splash plays have been among the highlights on the defense. The play-to-play performance of the linebacker group as a whole, however, has been a major issue at the season's midpoint. (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY)

Here’s a look at the Green Bay Packers’ defense at the bye:

MVP’s (Most Valuable Players)

1. Safety Morgan Burnett might not be making a bunch of big plays but he’s been consistently solid. In 2011 and 2012, when Burnett had a total of five interceptions and four forced fumbles, he was the only safety in the league with back-to-back seasons of two interceptions and two forced fumbles. In 2013, he had no interceptions or forced fumbles, though he did break up nine passes. This season, he’s second on the team with 59 tackles. Plus, he ranks 10th among safeties in ProFootballFocus.com’s tackling efficiency, which measures missed tackles per tackling opportunity, and 10th in PFF’s run-stop percentage, which measures impact tackles per snap. He’s forced one fumble but broken up only one pass after averaging 12.0 the last three seasons.

2. In terms of big plays, Julius Peppers has delivered. Peppers and Houston’s J.J. Watt are the only players in the league with at least one sack (team-high four), fumble recovery (two), forced fumble (one), interception (one) and defensive touchdown (one).

3. Nick Perry needs more playing time. He’s second on the team with three sacks in 102 pass-rushing snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Compare that to Peppers’ four sacks in 224 pass-rushing snaps, Clay Matthews’ 2.5 sacks in 242 pass-rushing snaps and Mike Neal’s two sacks in 196 pass-rushing snaps. Plus, in PFF’s run-stop percentage metric, Perry ranks third among 3-4 outside linebackers.

4. It might seem odd to point to two defensive linemen, considering the porous nature of the run defense, but Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion have played well at times. Daniels is tied for third on the team with 2.5 sacks, tied for third with three tackles for losses and leads the team with nine quarterback hits, by the coaches’ count. Last year, he had 6.5 sacks, 16 hits and nine TFLs. Guion also has three tackles for losses, and has made key short-yardage plays in each of the last three games.

MDP’s (Most Disappointing Players)

1. The Packers had high hopes for Peppers and Matthews. Combined, they have 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits, by the coaches’ count. That puts them on pace for 13 tackles and 32 hits. In 2012 alone, Matthews had 13 sacks and 42 hits. In PFF’s run-stop percentage, Matthews ranks 35th and Peppers’ 38th out of the league’s 43 3-4 outside linebackers (based on 25 percent playing time). While Peppers has made some splash plays, this duo hasn’t delivered to expectations on a down-to-down basis.

2. There’s a reason why Green Bay coveted inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round of this year’s draft. A.J. Hawk leads the team with 60 tackles but, as was the case last season, too many have been too far down the field. In PFF’s run-stop percentage metric, Hawk ranks 53rd out of 57 inside/middle linebackers (regardless of scheme; 25 percent playing time). Brad Jones’ injury opened the door for Jamari Lattimore. Neither has played well enough to seize control of the other spot, so the Packers have turned to a rotation of Lattimore and Sam Barrington, with a healthy Jones stuck on the bench.

3. Datone Jones was drafted in the first round last year to be an all-around, every-down impact performer at defensive end. Instead, he was Mr. Invisible as a rookie and has missed the last three games with an injured ankle. When healthy, he’s shown he can rush the passer. He hasn’t shown he can be much more than a speed bump against the run.

4. If he were healthy, Sam Shields would be listed under the MVPs. Instead, it’s a typical season for Shields. After missing a total of 10 games the past two seasons, he’s missed the last two-and-a-half games with a knee injury. He was just starting to round into form, too, with two interceptions at Chicago, no completions allowed against Minnesota and one catch for 3 yards against Miami, according to PFF.

Reason to cheer

With the addition of first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix and the return of Casey Hayward, the secondary is deep and good. Last year, Green Bay’s defensive backs had nine interceptions and 76 passes defensed, by the coaches’ count. This year, Green Bay’s defensive backs have seven interceptions and 40 passes defensed.

Reason to pull your hair

Green Bay had a top-five run defense for the first half of last season. Then Aaron Rodgers got hurt and the run defense got flattened. In retrospect, perhaps that collapse had nothing to do with Rodgers’ injury. With the potential of seven cold-weather games in the final eight weeks, the Packers had better get their run defense straightened out quickly.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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