While others who should have known better buried their heads in the sand, I opined last November that the Packers weren’t good enough on defense to get to the Super Bowl. Forget about my lack of faith in coordinator Dom Capers, I knew that any team starting C.J. Wilson at end, Erik Walden, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones at linebacker and M.D. Jennings at safety wasn’t going to be feted with a parade in February.
So how do things look 8 months later? Better, but I still don’t see a defense that will be good enough to get the Packers to the Super Bowl. Capers somehow survived the debacle in San Francisco – his unit’s third January meltdown in four years. Hawk and Jones are still starting, and unless young Jerron McMillian makes a big jump in July, so is Jennings. In my opinion, the defense needed a much bigger facelift than the one it received. GM Ted Thompson gave it botox. He needed to give it the Joan Rivers treatment.
The only way I see this defense being good enough to shut down a high-powered offense after New Year’s Day is if rookie end Datone Jones and second-year outside linebacker Nick Perry emerge as true difference makers. Because let’s be perfectly honest, Capers hasn’t fooled anybody since 2010. Nowadays, well-prepared quarterbacks figure out his blitz packages about as quickly as a ninth-grader figures out long division. The defense will only succeed if enough players win their one-on-one match ups. A year ago, only perennial Pro Bowler Clay Matthews managed to do that on a fairly consistent basis.
Jones and Perry are certainly talented enough to win their fair share of one on ones, but will they be able to so early in their professional careers? That’s the big question. If the answer is yes, the defense has a chance to be much better – even with Hawk, Jones and Jennings playing prominent roles. If the answer is no, the defense still has a chance to be marginally better than a season ago, but I don’t see that as being good enough in a conference that boasts some of the NFL’s most-balanced and talented teams.
As great as Aaron Rodgers is and as excited we all are about rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, the fate of the Packers will once again rest with the defense. If Jones and Perry are able to make an impact, there’s a decent chance Jersey will be inundated by Cheeseheads in February. If Jones plays like a typical rookie and Perry still looks more like an end than an outside linebacker, there’s a decent chance the Packers won’t even get the opportunity to be embarrassed in January. That’s how challenging their schedule looks as of today and how loaded the NFC figures to be.