The Packers have been a good defensive team exactly two times since Dom Capers took over as coordinator eight years ago. In 2010, the D finished 5th in yards and 2nd in points in a season that ended in the Super Bowl. And in 2014, the D surrendered only 19 points per game in the second half of a season that should have ended in the Super Bowl. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes or even Inspector Clouseau to figure out what those two units had in common.
The 2010 team had veterans Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson as the starting cornerbacks and undrafted rookie Sam Shields as the No. 3. Williams might’ve been the best player at his position that season and Woodson wasn’t far behind. As for Shields, he was well on his way to carving out his own path as a premier corner by the time the playoffs rolled round.
The 2014 team didn’t have quite the same star power at corner, but the depth was incredible. Williams and Shields were the starters, and the backups were Casey Hayward, Davon House and Micah Hyde. Just think about that for a minute. Those three players, who weren’t good enough to start in that secondary, would go on to sign contracts worth a combined $70 million as unrestricted free agents in the next three years.
Neither the 2010 team nor the 2014 team was especially strong at linebacker. Key contributors on those two defenses included Frank Zombo, Sam Barrington and Jamari Lattimore. But when you have quality corners, it makes everyone else just a little better. Or if you want to look at it another way, just a little less bad.
That brings us to 2017. Look, Capers won’t get any smarter, Matthews won’t get any younger and Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan won’t get any more athletic. For the defense to get significantly better, the play at cornerback must get significantly better. The good news is there’s some legit talent at the position. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are former high picks, LaDarius Gunter made a sizable jump last season and you can be sure general manager Ted Thompson will visit the position early again in this week’s draft.
If Thompson hits a home run – or at least a ground rule double – over the weekend and if Randall and Rollins perform more like Williams and Shields and less like Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas, the play at corner should be good. Not 2010 or 2014 good, but good enough. House is also back to provide valuable experience.
Add in safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, edge rushers Matthews and Perry and linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, and there should be enough talent for even Capers to field a pretty good defense. And with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, pretty good is all the Packers need to get back to the Super Bowl.