After Bitter Defeat, Green Bay Turns to Offseason for Defensive Fix, Return to Title Contention

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COMMENTARY | The hand-wringing, wailing, and gnashing of teeth over the end of the Green Bay Packers' season has begun to subside and while some in Cheesehead Land may only want to discuss whether or not Green Bay keeps Dom Capers, there are other issues to address as well.

First, and perhaps most pressing, is something that the casual observer, and even the beat reporters around the team hadn't noticed: the team's attitude.

It was somewhat apparent when Clay Matthews spouted after last season about how the New York Giants hadn't really beat the Packers, but rather Green Bay had beaten themselves.

The Giants won that playoff game 37-20. It wasn't dumb luck.

Aaron Rodgers mentioned during his weekly radio show that the attitude in the locker room needed to change. He pointed out that not everyone seemed to be as hungry this year as in 2010.

It was certainly clear heading into 2011 that not everyone came into the year motivated. B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett appeared out of shape and the defense in particular didn't play with any fire most of the year.

In 2012, the statistics on defense were much improved, although inconsistencies remained. It was a team who could demolish a Tennessee team one week with suffocating defense and a dominating offense and then give up 200 yards to Adrian Peterson in a game that would have sealed a first-round bye.

Charles Woodson openly questioned the in-game management of the defense after the loss to San Francisco. "I just think when the game is going the way it is, you've got to try something different."

"It's hard to just continue to do the same thing over and over again and continue to get burned. That's what I was talking about going forward. We need to figure out, could we have done something differently as far as our game plan was concerned?"

Dom Capers, for his part, admitted that he had tried several different approaches to trying to contain Colin Kaepernick, it was just that none of them seemed to work.

"When you play a quarterback like him, you have to adjust your rush lanes. The adjustment we made was we went to a spy technique and he juked us on the spy call," Capers explained.

"We had a third-and-10 and he threw the ball over the top of us. On third-and-eight he ran for a touchdown. We blitzed them on third-and-10 and he pulled it down and ran for 18 yards."

It was a truly strange game from the defense's standpoint as San Francisco was consistently able to make plays on third down, despite being in less than advantageous positions. Most of the plays were made by Kaepernick improvising.

"Tried to go to a three-deep zone because of the zone read play," Capers said. "We overpursued a zone read and they ran a dive for 26 yards."

Guarding quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick on these zone reads will be a work in progress for the entire league. The biggest problem for Green Bay appears that it simply doesn't have the horses, or at least it didn't on Saturday.

That leaves the Packers wondering where they go from here.

Getting Healthy

First and foremost, it's important to remember what they have coming back next year. Desmond Bishop was arguably the best player on this defense in 2011 with 115 tackles and 5 sacks, good for second on the team. Bishop missed the entire 2012 season and with him went the inside pass rush along with the toughness to stop power running teams like Minnesota and San Francisco.

The loss of Nick Perry for the season cannot be understated either. Although just a rookie, Perry had shown considerable promise in his transition from defensive end to outside linebacker.

In just 118 snaps against the pass, Perry had 2 sacks and 10 hurries. Erik Walden, Perry's replacement, had only 3 sacks in 459 pass plays. Perry's numbers stretched across a 16 game season - assuming he had the same number of pass-rush snaps as Walden - would have been nearly 8 sacks and 39 pressures.

Walden and Dezman Moses combined for 7 sacks and 40 pressures in over 700 combined snaps.

Green Bay doesn't need Perry to be Clay Matthews 2.0, but rather simply be a legitimate threat for opposing offenses. A season with 8 sacks and 40 pressures would have fit that bill perfectly. You can expect as Perry learns to harness his athleticism, those numbers would be the basement-level for him.

Perry's strength and speed combination also could have made a huge difference in defending quarterbacks like Kaepernick because even a misstep inside on a dive fake wouldn't preclude Perry from being able to reroute and make a play on the outside with his explosiveness and speed.

The key to Green Bay's offseason will be getting Perry healthy and up to speed. If they get a complimentary pass-rush to go with Clay Matthews, these defensive backs are good enough to cover and make plays.

Getting Derek Sherrod back to full strength will also provide considerable depth to an offensive line that played very inconsistently. Marshall Newhouse has grown by leaps and bounds as a pass-blocker, but his run-blocking still leaves plenty of be desired.

In a perfect world, Bryan Bulaga comes back healthy and Sherrod plays like the first round pick he was, giving this team a huge boost and much more depth than it had last season.

Additions and Subtractions

In terms of player movement though, the Packers could also use a defensive lineman to play end in their 3-4 scheme. Mike Neal played well in spurts, but also disappeared for long stretches.

Ditto for Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, two rookies.

Only Neal is truly suited to play the position, with long arms and serious power. Ryan Pickett has never been suited to play in the 3-4 anywhere except nose tackle and is forced to play out of position due to Green Bay's lack of personnel.

The 2013 draft is loaded with defensive players, both outside rushers and interior players. Expect Green Bay to nab one of each in April and try to boost the depth of its pass-rushing abilities.

There will also have to be moves made to account for the losses of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Green Bay likes Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross, but in a draft with some big-time upside at wide receiver - albeit mostly raw, unrefined talent - expect Ted Thompson to take a flyer in the first four rounds on one of the receivers to add to this group.

Packers fans should also expect to see some movement at safety if Green Bay is disappointed with the progress of Jerron McMillian, who barely saw the field by season's end. M.D. Jennings simply doesn't make enough impact plays and Charles Woodson will only be back under a re-structured contract, so the need for a back-end defensive back will be high.

I think it's also prudent to expect Terrell Manning to have every opportunity to fill the void left by the likely departure of A.J. Hawk. Some scouts believed if Manning had stayed in school, he would have been a second round pick this April. A debilitating stomach condition stunted his growth in the preseason this year, but he has a nose for the football and upper-tier athletic ability, something Hawk lacked.

Part of the strategy behind Ted Thompson's love of young players is that they bring energy and urgency to your football team. Too many of the veterans on the Packers are apparently a little too satisfied. Watching Green Bay wave goodbye to Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, A.J. Hawk and even Charles Woodson could be a well-deserved reminder of the competitive nature of the business and the team's attitude toward players who don't perform.

There are talented young players waiting in the wings to take someone's jobs and everyone on the team must remember that. It's also incumbent upon Ted Thompson and his scouting department to bring at least one or two impact players to this team whether through the draft, free agency (ha) or trade.

It's obvious the defense was too reliant on Bishop and the emergence of Nick Perry to succeed. And as Dom Capers alluded to, it doesn't matter how you scheme for a team, if you don't have the players to make the plays, your team won't win.

As disappointing as the end to this season was for the Green Bay Packers, they'll be back, re-tooled, and re-loaded next season. Ted Thompson has improved the personnel on this team through the draft every year he's been in Green Bay and this offseason should be no different.

This team will need to live out the praise Mike McCarthy spoke in his season-ending press conference Tuesday.

"The one thing I appreciated about this football team was the ability to respond," McCarthy said. "Unfortunately this year we don't have the opportunity to respond to the San Francisco loss."

"It's tough. The goal around here is not just to win 12 games, not just to win division championships. Our goal will always be the same here."

Green Bay's chance to respond starts immediately with the opportunity to make this team better in the offseason. If it can, the Packers will be that much closer to realizing the goal which, as McCarthy said, does not change in Green Bay: winning a Super Bowl.

Peter Bukowski lives in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime

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