Prior to 2011, Clay Matthews had 24 career sacks over two years, 14 of which came during the Packers’ Super Bowl season in 2010.
He was easily the leader of the Green Bay pass rush, a title he still holds. But when the leader of your pass rush only has six sacks, that’s a problem.
Two years ago Green Bay had a lethal pass rush and brought the quarterback down 47 times in the regular season, which was only one sack behind the league-leading Steelers. Their regression in 2011 was a chain reaction with multiple roots. Matthews suffered from a severe lack of support, which was partly a consequence of Cullen Jenkins’ departure. Jenkins could get to the quarterback (he had seven sacks in 2010), and he occupied blockers who wanted to occupy Matthews. Everybody won.
Fast forward a year, and the Green Bay pass rush was almost solely Matthews’ responsibility, which is why the Pack ended the year averaging 1.8 sacks per game after getting nearly three per game last year. The comfort level of opposing QBs led to much more time in the pocket, which contributed to a secondary that was routinely torched, giving up a league-worst average of 299.8 yards per game.
Supporting Matthews is expected to the Packers’ top priority in this year’s draft. Monty McMahon of Total Packers agrees, and that’s where our conversation about GM Ted Thompson’s 2012 draft strategy began.
1. There were injuries, but a regressing pass rush was the Packers’ main defensive weakness last year. Is help for Clay Matthews the top priority? Nick Perry would be a good fit…
No doubt. You can tell that by the Packers signing of Anthony Hargrove and interest in Dave Tollefson. The team suffered more than they anticipated from the loss of Cullen Jenkins last season. They couldn’t replace his presence on the defensive line with the guys on the roster and they never could find a capable outside linebacker opposite Matthews. I expect them to go defensive end or outside linebacker in the first or second round.
2. The problems with the pass defense weren’t all on the front seven, though, and the secondary was burned too. Will a safety be targeted in the early rounds? Anyone specific you’re looking at?
This primarily depends on whether Nick Collins is cleared to return from his neck injury. Collins quarterbacks the defense and helps minimize the miscommunication that occurred too often last season. That being said, I expect the Packers to target a defensive back, regardless of position early. Charles Woodson isn’t getting any younger and the team’s nickel back, Sam Shields, regressed significantly after an impressive rookie campaign. If Collins isn’t cleared to return, I could see the Packers making a play for Alabama’s Mark Barron, even if that means trading up.
3. Ryan Grant could be re-signed, but if he leaves are you comfortable with Alex Green sliding in as James Starks’ backup, or will another running back be taken later in the draft?
I fully expect Grant to be back. Starks hasn’t shown he’s capable of staying healthy. Green is coming off a torn ACL, so he probably won’t be back to full speed until midseason. The Packers like Brandon Saine, who was an undrafted rookie last season, but they’ll probably need to add someone through the draft with or without Grant. Look for a mid-to-late round pick.
4. Any other areas you’d like to see addressed?
The Packers need to add some depth on the offensive line, particularly at center. They signed Jeff Saturday to replace Scott Wells, but he has one, maybe two seasons left. The team needs to groom someone to replace him.