Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2012 Green Bay Packers Should Play Some 4-3

We all know the Green Bay Packers’ offense led by Aaron Rodgers can pick up big chunks of passing yards with great flourish, just look at how they dismantled one of the premier defenses on the road last week against the Texans to hand them their first loss of 2012.  Unfortunately, the defense can give up big chunks of passing yards with similar spectacle.  In order to strengthen the prospects for another Super Bowl title, this has to stop.  One way to strengthen the defense in this area is to play some snaps in a 4-3 defense as opposed to the traditional 3-4 defense.

Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers changed the formation from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense when the Packers hired him in 2009.  Initially, the Packers transitioned smoothly to the 3-4 scheme.  After letting defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins leave via free agency before the 2011 NFL season though, the Packers struggled to create a consistent pass rush from the defensive line.  As a result, the Packers gave up 4,796 passing yards last year, which is the most in NFL history.  Since the Packers finished the 2011 regular season with a 15-1 record, we can chalk up some of those lost passing yards to opponents who attempted to minimize the point differential created by the stellar Packer offense.  The majority of the yards, however, are due to the fact that the Packers did not create enough pressure on the other team’s quarterback.  The Packers cannot retroactively re-sign Jenkins, so they need to consider other options in order to have an effective pass defense for the rest of 2012.

General manager Ted Thompson addressed the Packers’ lack of pass rush when he selected defensive end/outside linebacker Nick Perry from USC and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy from Michigan State with the Packers' first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.  Those first two selections by Thompson marked the start of an unprecedented six-pick run of drafting defensive players.

The SackSEER 2.0 Model developed by Football Outsiders projected Perry to be the most effective pass rusher coming out of the 2012 NFL Draft. While that projection seems impressive, it is important to remember that the model factored in Perry’s collegiate production as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense, not the 3-4 defense used by the Packers.  Worthy is a versatile player that could play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense or any position along the defensive line in the 3-4 defense as long as he gives 100% effort in the NFL.  Both Perry and Worthy project as versatile players in the NFL that can play in almost any defensive scheme on a long term basis, but they look like better fits for a 4-3 defensive scheme in the short-term.  Perry even expressed an interest in playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme as opposed to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme before the 2012 NFL Draft.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Packers should change their entire defensive scheme based on a couple of rookies.  The Packers now have a number of new players that fit a 4-3 scheme though, so they have the ability to play a few snaps a game in the 4-3 defense.  This will benefit the Packers because it will give them another way to attack teams defensively and help stymie strong offenses.  Plus, allowing rookies to play in schemes where they are comfortable will assist them in making a smooth transition from college football to the NFL.  That smooth transition only serves the Packers well in the long run.

I know the Packers only played a traditional 3-4 defense for roughly 1/3rd of all their defensive snaps in 2011, but lowering that number a little by increasing the number of snaps they play in a 4-3 defense in 2012 plays to the Packers’ strengths and will keep opposing offenses on their toes.  If that doesn’t convince you yet, the Packers lost their two best middle linebackers for the season already. Desmond Bishop got hurt in the preseason and D.J. Smith got hurt last week against the Texans.  All of a sudden the Packers only have one traditional middle linebackers on their roster in A.J. Hawk.  Besides Hawk, the Packers will have to lean on a number of backups with little game experience playing middle linebacker.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating a wholesale shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but if the defensive line and linebackers can create a little more pressure via a 4-3 scheme for a handful of snaps a game, it will allow the secondary to continue to create turnovers while surrendering less yards.  The Packers should at least experiment with a 4-3 defense with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Jerel Worthy, and Nick Perry along the defensive line and Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, and Erik Walden at linebacker.  A few snaps a game in a 4-3 defense might be a solution to some of their defensive woes.

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