GREEN BAY, Wis. — Not making it back to the Super Bowl last season has not affected the confidence of the Green Bay Packers whatsoever. Even though a 15-1 regular-season record was essentially wiped out by a disastrous performance in a home playoff loss to the New York Giants, the Packers are returning all of their star players and feeling good about where they stand as the team parts ways until training camp.
“We’re still one of the top teams in the NFL, and you’d be kidding yourselves if you don’t think that,” nose tackle B.J. Raji told FOXSportsWisconsin.com at the team’s three-day minicamp this week.
Offense was certainly not the problem in Green Bay last season, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers setting the NFL’s single-season QB rating record and being named the league’s Most Valuable Player. As a result of Rodgers’ dominance, the Packers scored an NFL-best 35 points per game.
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However, Green Bay’s defense was on the opposite end, giving up the most passing yards in NFL history. Still, 2010 Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams doesn’t see anything that can’t be corrected.
“I think we’re elite,” Williams said. “I don’t think that’s a question. I don’t think we can get any worse. If we just get a little bit better, we’re going to be elite. It’s just the way things work around here.”
In addition to setting the types of passing records that no defense wants to be associated with in 2011, the Packers also finished last in the NFL in total team defense. One of the biggest issues that led to such a poor season defensively was a lack of pass rush. In 2010, Green Bay had 47 sacks — second-most in the league — on its way to a Super Bowl victory. In 2011, the Packers had only 29 sacks, finishing 27th overall in that category.
“Going from a top-10 defense to 32 is definitely a humbling experience,” Raji said. “I think most people on the defensive side of the ball feel like they can play better.”
A big reason for the drop-off in sacks is due to Clay Matthews’ numbers. Matthews recorded 13.5 sacks in 2010, statistics that were impressive enough to be the runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year award in just his second NFL season. But, in 2011, Matthews finished with just six sacks.
The lack of a pass rush in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme last season forced the team’s secondary to defend wide receivers for several extra seconds on many occasions. This led to the defense allowing 71 plays of 20-plus yards, which was the second-most in the NFL.
“If you have the coverage and the rush doesn’t get there, then eventually the receiver is going to get open,” Williams said. “And vice versa, if the rush gets there but the coverage isn’t there, then it defeats the purpose of both.”
Packers general manager Ted Thompson used the team’s first six draft picks on defensive players, and a couple of those rookies are expected to start immediately. First-round pick Nick Perry is taking all his snaps with the first-team defense at outside linebacker opposite Matthews, and second-round pick Jerel Worthy is starting next to Raji on the defensive line.
So, with Rodgers and all his wide receivers returning, and the defense apparently having patched up its holes, there is reason for confidence in Green Bay.
“I think we might have had one of the best drafts we’ve had as far as what we need, and I’m excited,” Williams said.