Championship teams have a few elite play makers on their rosters. These are difference makers, guys who opponents must account for on nearly every snap. On offense, the Green Bay Packers have several, most notably Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. But on defense right now, Green Bay doesn’t have anybody who fits this description through six games and elite teams have a few elite players on both sides of the ball.
Look at the Packers last two Super Bowl teams. On offense, the Packers had elite players like Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman in 1996 and Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in 2010. Defensively, the Pack featured Reggie White and LeRoy Butler in 1996 and Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews in 2010.
Right now, the Packers are lacking anyone on their roster who comes close to being an elite play maker. Edge rushers are the most common players to make this kind of impact, but the Packers starting duo has not come close to dominating despite their high salaries.
Matthews was such a player several years ago, but now at age 32 with 10 NFL season and numerous injuries during his career, he just doesn’t have that kind of impact anymore. In six games, he has just 1.5 sacks and isn’t getting much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Matthews has been asked to drop into coverage more often in Mike Pettine’s defense, but his coverage skills are just average. He just hasn’t been a difference maker often enough this season which is a shame for a player with a cap hit of $11.33 million.
Nick Perry is the Packers other edge rusher. The former first-round pick has a cap hit of $10.75 million this season and like Matthews, he has only 1.5 sacks through six games. Perry has struggled to stay healthy over the course of his career and just isn’t producing at a rate anywhere near his high salary.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may be the closest thing the secondary has to an elite play maker. Clinton-Dix does make big plays. He leads the Packers with three interceptions. The rest of the team has only two. He also has added a sack and forced a key fumble.
But Clinton-Dix’s play has been too inconsistent for him to qualify as an elite player. He often takes poor angles when trying to make tackles or gets burned in pass coverage after making poor decisions. In 2016, the Alabama alum made the Pro Bowl and seemed on his way to becoming the play maker the defense needed. But his play has fallen off since then and Clinton-Dix is playing far short of an elite level.
Clinton-Dix’s contract is up after this season and he has already publicly stated he does not think the Packers want him back in 2019. While he may not be worth the kind of contract he will command on the free agent market, the Packers have no alternatives on their roster who can come close to matching Clinton-Dix’s production.
There are some young players who may develop into impact players already on the Packers roster. Defensive backs Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson have all shown flashes of elite ability, but it is too soon to see if they will develop the big play ability and consistency needed to fill these shoes.
Up front, Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark have also shined on the field at times but have not been consistent enough to merit consideration as elite players. Daniels has gotten off to a slow start this season after showing the potential to be a difference maker over the past two seasons. Clark has been a consistent player this season but hasn’t made enough game-changing big plays.
Green Bay had a chance to acquire an established elite defender just before the season started but the Raiders dealt Khalil Mack to the division rival Bears. The Packers simply don’t have any player of that caliber on their roster right now.
Pettine’s defense has succeeded in the past without elite pass rushers, especially during his tenure with the Jets. The Packers have had six games to learn their new defensive coordinator’s system. Now it’s time to implement it and make it work.
The next five games are the toughest of the season. The Packers will face elite quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. For the team to survive this difficult stretch and remain in playoff contention, they will need a few players on defense to step up and become play makers or this season of great expectations could come crashing down in a hurry.