Defense wins championships, as the saying goes. It’s hard to fault that logic when looking at the Packers in recent years. In each of the past two seasons, Green Bay has ended the year with overtime losses in which the offense never saw the field after the fourth quarter. A good offense is obviously important, but without a solid defense the Pack has been unable to return to the Super Bowl. Heading into 2016, the defense is loaded with young talent that is primed to be the best we’ve seen since 2010, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl in finished 5th in the league in total defense. Now six years removed from winning the title, let’s take a look at how the defense has evolved, and how it compares to our last championship unit.
2010 – Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Howard Green, C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn
2016 – Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Letroy Guion, Datone Jones, Dean Lowry, Mike Pennel
The defensive line is one of two groups that is completely different between 2010 and 2016 (inside linebacker is the other). Jenkins, Raji, Pickett, and Green were all key players in the Super Bowl run, making key plays and suffocating the run game. The 2016 group features one of the best lineman in the league in Mike Daniels, an unproven rookie in Kenny Clark, a quality veteran in Guion, and Jones looking to prove himself in a contract year. If Clark and Guion can plug holes up as well as Raji and Green did in the middle and Daniels can continue to wreak havoc, the line could be every bit as good as it was in 2010, but they’ll need to prove themselves to be of similar quality.
Edge – 2010
2010 – Clay Matthews, Erik Walden, Frank Zombo, Diyral Briggs
2016 – Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Kyler Fackrell, Jayrone Elliott
Both these units are clearly dominated by Clay Matthews. Matthews narrowly lost out on defensive player of the year to Troy Polamalu in 2010, and he’s been just as dominant ever since. After Matthews, the 2016 squad looks great. Julius Peppers has been phenomenal, recording 17.5 sacks in his two years as a Packer, and the bench depth is much better than that of Frank Zombo and Diyral Briggs (the pair combined for 10 career sacks in eight professional seasons). The quality behind Matthews is the major difference in the two groups.
Edge – 2016
2010 – Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Robert Francois, Matt Wilhelm
2016 – Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Joe Thomas
The Packers have been in dire need of quality middle linebackers the past few years, and the 2010 squad was full of them, especially if you count Nick Barnett, who was left out of this list because he was placed on IR early in the season. Hawk and Bishop were experienced players in their prime, forming a formidable duo that could rush the passer (3.5 sacks), cover well (18 pass deflections and four interceptions), and hunt down the ball (214 tackles). This years team would be exhilarated if the starting middle linebackers combined for numbers like those. If Barrington can be the player he was expected to be before getting hurt last season, and both Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez can come into their own, the 2016 linebacking corp could be just as good, but they’ll have to prove it.
Edge – 2010
2010 – Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee
2016 – Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Micah Hyde, Ladarius Gunter, Dimitri Goodson
Sam Shields was just an undrafted rookie in 2010, but he’s turned into a true number one corner capable of defending some of the best receivers in the league and he’s the only player who played on each group. The 2016 group lacks any player with the star power of Charles Woodson, who was one year removed from winning defensive player of the year in 2009, but it has much more depth. If Jarrett Bush, Brandon Underwood, or Pat Lee saw the field short of a special teams play, it was a reason to be nervous, but the current squad has quality cover men from top to bottom. With one of the best secondaries in the NFL, it’s hard to argue argue against the 2016 cast.
Edge – 2016
2010 – Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, Charlie Peprah
2016 – Morgan Burnett, Haha Clinton-Dix, Chris Banjo, Kentrell Brice
If it weren’t for an injury early on in his rookie season, Morgan Burnett would’ve been on both rosters, but as it is he makes the difference between the two all the larger. Nick Collins was a star at safety, and could’ve been considered for the hall of fame had his career not been cut short by injury in 2011. After Collins, however, the 2010 group was weak in both coverage and run defense. On the other hand, the 2016 cast has two quality starters in Clinton-Dix and Burnett, though neither of them is of Collins caliber just yet. Assuming both Burnett and Clinton-Dix are as good as they were last year (while hoping they continue to improve), the safety position is a definite strongsuit of the current defense.
Edge – 2016
On the whole, it’s hard to separate the two defenses in terms of quality. The current roster may hold an edge in three of the five groups evaluated here, but the differences in quality with the defensive line and the inside linebacking corp between the two may push 2010 over the top. In any event, the difficulty in separating the two is a positive sign for the Packers, who’ve averaged a finish of 20th in total defense in the five seasons since the Super Bowl XLV victory. Defense wins championships, and, this year, that could finally be a good sign for Green Bay.