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Add More Talent to the Secondary? Not Really Necessary

Getting players to play better should be the Packers' first concern.

I was just browsing on NFL.com and happened to run across Michael Lombardi's rundown of NFC North team needs. I've been reading Lombardi since he was at the National Football Post and have a lot of respect for him, but I think at least one of his recommendations ignores the problem the Packers are trying to fix. After urging the Packers to upgrade at OLB and defensive end, Lombardi urges the Packers to add more talent in the secondary. The Packers have plenty of talent in their pass defense; getting the most out of it is the problem.

Yes, it's 2012 and you always want more cornerbacks, but from a talent perspective the Packers are doing OK in the secondary. Charles Woodson is in a position that allows him to maximize his remaining athletic ability and still make a lot of plays, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields were capable starting corners as recently as 2010, and Morgan Burnett has shown signs of becoming a solid safety. (Remember, it took Nick Collins three years before he put it together and made his first Pro Bowl in '08, and Burnett is entering Year 3.) Charlie Peprah is ideally a No. 3 safety, but the Packers can get by with him if Collins can't return. Jarrett Bush has developed into a passable fill-in nickelback and the loss of Patrick Lee is negligible.

Just adding more bodies isn't the way to resuscitate the Packers' last-ranked pass defense. That approach ignores the main problem, which was that a lot of pass defenders had awful years in 2011, far below the level at which they're capable of playing. Williams, Shields and A.J. Hawk were all much worse in pass defense in 2011 than 2010. The 2011 combination of Burnett and Peprah at safety was far worse than Collins and Peprah were in 2010, and Woodson tended to give up more big plays in the first half of 2011 (though he settled down in the second half). Yes, if Collins can't come back the Packers will need another safety, but they're capable of being a lot better with the personnel they have now.

So why was the Packers secondary so bad in 2011? There's no easy answer. Joe Whitt Jr. and Darren Perry came in as the CBs and safeties coaches in 2009, so there was no coaching change to blame it on. Williams had a shoulder injury and couldn't play press coverage, but he had mostly healed by the end of the season. The pass rush was terrible all season, but the tackling was terrible all season, and often people were just getting beat out there (see: Hakeem Nicks' Hail Mary catch in the Giants game).

Whatever the cause, it won't be fixed without shaking up the secondary and getting its members, somehow, to play back to their 2010 levels. Getting Williams and Shields back to their 2010 form should be the priority; throwing more talent at the problem, while satisfying and helpful, wouldn't be nearly as helpful as getting your in-house talent to improve the way it's supposed to be doing. The Packers have to hope that Collins will be able to return in 2012 or later, or else they have to go looking for another player with top-end speed and ball skills, as well as the ability to effecively communicate the defensive assignments in the secondary. To say the least, that's a Herculean task.

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Mike March 30, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Tramon Williams had a bad year because he played with a bum shoulder and refused to tackle because he did not want to get hurt. Shields took a step backwards because Collins controlled the backfiled and had everyone in place pre-snap. What we really need is a healthy collins back again. With Collins you have a pro bowler who makes plays. I would like to see what Devin House has. He is taller and more physical. They practice against the best WR's in the league so he should get better. What hurt the most was no pass rush whatsoever. Believe it or not the 2 new guys like Muir and Hargrove give us more stability up front to unleash the backers in a blitz. We do need to find someone opposite Matthews that can get to the QB with 14-20 sacks opposite Matthews (tough to find). If we find that then our DB's will not have to hold coverage as long. They do need to tackle better because the way they tackled last year was disgusting to say the least. A healthy Collins, the addition of Muir and Hargrove provide more depth and then draft well on the defensive side of the ball and hit a home run with someone in the draft and our D will be in good shape. Also, we need to get rid of Hawk, he is just plain terrible in coverage and tackling and is slow to the ball.

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