Green Bay Packers: Brad Jones

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews' future position may depend on what additions the Green Bay Packers make to their roster this offseason.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers moved Matthews to inside linebacker on a part-time basis halfway through this past season out of necessity -- because their run defense was last in the league through eight games -- and it worked. The Packers ranked in the top-10 against the run in the second half of the season, and Matthews still managed double-digit sacks (11) for the fourth time in six years.

Matthews
While the role grew on Matthews, he made no secret about the fact that he preferred to play his natural outside linebacker position.

In November, during the early stages of the change, McCarthy said it would be a mistake to label Matthews an inside linebacker.

"He’s a football player," McCarthy said at the time.

On Wednesday, McCarthy was more specific.

"Clay's an outside linebacker," he said. "I think we all recognize that. But he was very productive in his role when he went inside. I think as we build our roster and go through the player acquisition phase, there will be more answers, hopefully more options and we'll see how it goes."

The Packers like what Sam Barrington gave them from the inside linebacker position late in the season, when he gained a more prominent role. Their other two primary inside linebackers, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, could be salary-cap cuts based on their high salaries and decline in production, so the Packers might need to make some key acquisitions in order to move Matthews back to outside linebacker on a full-time basis.

One other question lingered about Matthews: Why wasn't he on the field for the Packers' last two defensive series of the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seahawks?

Matthews returned for the lone series of overtime, but McCarthy did not have a clear explanation. It appeared Matthews may have sustained a blow to the head with less than 11 minutes remaining, when he broke up a pass intended for tight end Luke Willson. Matthews could be seen holding his head before he took himself out of the game.

"I don't know about a concussion," McCarthy said Wednesday. "I know he was being looked at there at the end. His knee. But he did have a couple collisions, and we may be talking about the same play. I saw it, and I actually walked towards him, because Jordy Nelson waved to me. I talked to Clay and he just said he needed a minute. Looking him in the eye and everything, I didn't see any reason for concern there.”

Later in the fourth quarter, Matthews appeared to be trying to get his legs loose on the sideline.

After the game, Matthews said: "It was a medley of things just catching up to me. Fortunately, I worked with the trainers a little bit during that last drive and was able to get back out there for overtime."

Starter Pack: Roster bonus re-check

January, 27, 2015
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A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Most contract extensions or new contracts the Packers sign with veterans contain roster bonuses that will pay players based on how many games they appear in each season.

In 2014, the Packers paid out most of that money.

Only four of the 11 players who had per-game roster bonuses failed to collect all of their money. The four who did not were safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Brad Jones, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and cornerback Sam Shields.

Burnett, whose contract called for him to be paid $18,750 for every game active, missed one game and therefore collected $281,250 out of a possible $300,000. Jones, who had the same bonus structure, missed three games and collected $243,750. Raji also had the same bonus structure but he missed out on the entire $300,000 because he missed the entire season. Shields, who had a $31,250 per-game bonus, missed two games and therefore collected $437,500 out of a possible $500,000 in roster bonuses.

The other seven -- fullback John Kuhn ($50,000 in roster bonuses), defensive tackle Letroy Guion ($120,000), running back James Starks ($182,913), tight end Andrew Quarless ($200,000), linebacker Mike Neal ($300,000), receiver Jordy Nelson ($500,000) and linebacker Clay Matthews ($500,000) -- collected their full bonuses by appearing in every game.

In all, the Packers paid out more than $2.8 million in per-game roster bonuses in 2014.

In case you missed it from ESPN.com: Best of the rest:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This week, we looked at the Green Bay Packers' upcoming free agents on both the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side and noted that general manager Ted Thomson has some difficult choices to make.

He's also facing some decisions about players under contract for next season.

Not that the Packers are hurting for salary-cap space -- they already have $18,361,430 in available room for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data -- but they could pick up a lot more room if they decide to release some players already under contract.

If the Packers make salary-cap related moves, they usually do so before free agency begins in March.

Here's a look at three possible salary-cap casualties:

A.J. Hawk, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $5.1 million
Cap savings if released: $3.5 million
Hawk
Why he could be released: In his ninth season, the former first-round pick saw his role greatly reduced late in the season. He played only 31.1 percent of the defensive snaps over the final seven games (including playoffs). In the first 11 games, he played 94 percent of the snaps. He has only the 2015 season remaining on his contract. If the Packers released him, they would have to absorb $1.6 million -- the remaining proration from his last signing bonus -- on their salary cap, but they would wipe out his $2.45 million base salary and bonuses of $800,000 (roster) and $250,000 (workout). Age and a lack of speed appears to have caught up to Hawk, who turned 31 this month. However, injuries could have been a factor. Although he denied he was hurt, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, one of Hawk's best friends on the team, said several times during the season that Hawk was battling health issues.

Brad Jones, LB
2015 salary-cap charge: $4.75 million
Cap savings if released: $3.75 million

Jones
Why he could be released: Like Hawk, Jones' role was significantly reduced as the season went on. He played every snap in the season opener, then missed three games because of a quadriceps injury. When he returned, he played only 15.9 percent of the defensive snaps the rest of the reason. Those snaps came mostly as the lone inside linebacker in the dime package, but he was benched from that role before the NFC Championship Game and didn't play a snap on defense in that game. He has only the 2015 season remaining on his contract. The Packers would wipe out his $3.25 million base salary and $500,000 in bonuses by releasing him. They would have to count only $1 million -- the remaining proration from his last signing bonus -- on their cap.

Julius Peppers, OLB
2015 salary-cap charge: $12 million
Cap savings if released: $7 million
Peppers
Why he could be released: Peppers had a productive season with 9.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions, including playoffs, while playing 73.8 percent of the defensive snaps. But the three-year, $26 million contract he signed last March was structured so that the Packers could move on after one year and save cap space if they desired. On the flip side, if they keep him, it will be costly. His base salary for 2015 would be $8.5 million, and he has another $1 million in bonuses. That $9.5 million would be wiped off the books if he were released, and the Packers would have to count $5 million in remaining signing bonus proration (or they could designate him as a post-June 1 cut and count $2.5 million on 2015, and the other $2.5 million on the 2016 cap).
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There could be changes coming on coach Mike McCarthy's staff.

Some could be his decision, and some could be the decision of others.

Shortly after the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs with Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game, there was reportedly interest from other teams in at least two members of his coaching staff.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that offensive coordinator Tom Clements is on the Cleveland Browns' radar, while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the St. Louis Rams want to talk to Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt about their offensive coordinator job.

If Clements and Van Pelt still have additional years remaining on their contracts, then McCarthy can block them from interviewing. It's almost a certainty that Van Pelt does because he was promoted to quarterbacks coach last offseason, meaning he likely signed a new, multi-year deal at that time.

Then there's the possibility that McCarthy will want to make changes on his own staff. Last year, he did not retain assistant special teams coach Chad Morton and brought in veteran coach Ron Zook to assistant special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. Given how much the Packers struggled on special teams this season and in Sunday's playoff loss, it would be impossible to rule out further changes.

In case you missed it from ESPN.com: Best of the rest:

Packers Mailbag: Underdog mentality

January, 17, 2015
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Each week, readers are invited to submit questions about the Green Bay Packers via Twitter using the hashtag #PackersMail. Here are some of the hot topics as we get closer to this Sunday's NFC Championship Game at the Seattle Seahawks:

Demovsky: It's not just the media -- although just about everyone on the ESPN panel (except for Mike Ditka and Seth Wickersham) and the NFL Nation panel (except for Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas) picked against them. The oddsmakers have established the Seahawks as an overwhelming favorite. With a line between a touchdown and 7.5 points, the Packers have not been this big of an underdog with Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback, dating to 2008. They were a six-point underdog in Seattle in Week 1 and lost by 20. To be sure, Rodgers relishes the underdog role. He still carries a chip on his shoulder because not one single Division I team recruited him out of high school and because 23 teams passed on him in the 2005 draft before the Packers took him. But that's not what wins games. I can guarantee you this: the Packers don't look at themselves as an underdog. Several players said coach Mike McCarthy did not bring it up once before the team left for Seattle on Friday.

Demovsky: You're right, that was my pick. And for the game to be that close, they had better not miss 18 tackles. But you're right in the sense that this is a different team, especially a different defense, than the Packers had in Week 1. That 4-3 defense you mentioned was something the Packers had worked on privately all offseason, and they wanted to throw it at the unsuspecting Seahawks. Even the surprise factor didn't help. It was so ineffective that defensive coordinator Dom Capers junked it after a couple of weeks. Also, they won't have Derek Sherrod playing half the game at right tackle in place of Bryan Bulaga, who left with a knee injury. Sherrod was so bad that the former first-round pick didn't make it out of the first week of November. I expect the Packers to play a competitive game. They might even win. But the smart money says it's a long shot.

Demovsky: We actually saw a hint of something different from their dime package Sunday against the Cowboys. They used cornerback Jarrett Bush in place of Brad Jones, who had been the lone inside linebacker in the dime package. We could see more of that against the Seahawks. They wouldn't want to use Clay Matthews in that role because those are the situations in which they want him rushing off the edge. When the Packers go to their dime package, they're expecting a pass, so they want Matthews getting after the quarterback. As for Sean Richardson, there is a package that gets him on the field, but it's a base 3-4 alignment in which he replaces one of the cornerbacks, giving the Packers three safeties and one corner on the field. They call it "Big Okie" -- "Okie" is what they call their 3-4 -- and it's designed to give them a little bigger presence against the run.

Demovsky: I don't think they would have kept Scott Tolzien on the roster all year if they didn't think he had a chance to be the long-term No. 2 quarterback. Here's the problem, the No. 3 quarterback doesn't get many reps in practice, so the Packers aren't going to have much better of a feel for what Tolzien can do now than they did at the end of training camp. But what they do know is that Tolzien will have another year in the system, another year watching and learning from Aaron Rodgers. As for the draft, history tells us that they're not likely to select a quarterback and especially unlikely to take one in the early rounds. They have drafted exactly one quarterback (B.J. Coleman in the seventh round in 2012) in the past six drafts.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The hit that was costliest on the field did not draw a fine, but one that was not flagged cost a member of the Green Bay Packers some cash.

Linebacker Brad Jones was not fined for his hit to the helmet of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second quarter of last Sunday's game, but linebacker Sam Barrington was docked $16,537 for roughing Stafford in third quarter. Barrington was not penalized even though he drove Stafford into the turf.

It marks Barrington's second fine in three weeks. He was hit with the same fine for a horse-collar tackle in Week 15 against the Buffalo Bills.

Jones' penalty was costly at the time because it came on a third-and-13 play on which Stafford had thrown an incomplete pass, and the Lions would have faced fourth down from the Packers' 35-yard line. Instead on the next play, Stafford hit for a 20-yard touchdown that cut the Packers' lead to 14-7.

Lions running back Reggie Bush was fined $8,268 for grabbing the facemask of Packers' cornerback Casey Hayward as the two tumbled out of bounds in the third quarter.

 
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe A.J. Hawk is just another accomplished NFL player nearing the end of his career.

Or at least the end of his time with the Green Bay Packers.

How else can you describe the nine-year veteran's diminished playing time the last two weeks?

He continues to insist that he's not hurt, just as he did when first asked about it on Thanksgiving and then again Thursday after his closest friend on the team, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, suggested this week on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show that Hawk has been playing hurt and dealing with "a body that hasn’t been responding, I think, as well as he wanted it to at times this year."

[+] EnlargeA.J. Hawk
AP photo/Jim MahoneyA.J. Hawk has 80 tackles this season, but no interceptions or forced fumbles.
"No, I'm not hurt. My body has bounced back every week," Hawk said Thursday after being told of Rodgers' comments. "I feel better older than I did younger. I think he was just trying to be supportive of a friend or teammate --I don't know."

Less than a month ago, Hawk played all 78 defensive snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles. A week later, he still played the majority – 55 of 68 snaps – against the Minnesota Vikings. But two weeks ago, his role was slashed. He took the field for less than half of the plays – 26 of 56 – against the New England Patriots. And on Monday night against the Atlanta Falcons, old No. 50 trotted out for just eight of 67 plays.

The last two weeks, defensive coordinator Dom Capers gave Hawk snaps in only one defensive package – his base 3-4, which he rarely employs anymore. Hawk, who used to play in both the nickel and dime package, has seen his role diminish in favor of Sam Barrington, Clay Matthews and even Brad Jones, depending on the game plan.

"I think he's probably better now that we aren't playing him [every snap]," Capers said. "There were a couple games he played 70 plays. We're always concerned about not overplaying our guys to where hopefully we can have him as healthy as we can have him through the month of December and hopefully a chance to play after that. I think A.J.'s fine now. I think he's better right now with the fact that he hasn't played 70 plays the last couple weeks. I think that will bode well for us moving forward."

The 30-year-old Hawk has spent his entire career with the team that drafted him fifth overall in 2006, although they did cut him once, in March 2011, only to sign him back under different terms one day later. He's one of the most insightful players on the team on the rare occasion that he shows up in the locker room during the week of a game, but he has never been comfortable talking about himself.

"It doesn't matter; no one cares," Hawk said at his locker. "Everyone is in their own life, and they should be. This team is playing really well. That's why I was hesitant to even come in here. Nothing is about me. It shouldn't be about me. It's dumb to talk about me. We're 10-3."

Hawk said he has thought about the end of his career but doesn't believe he's at that point yet. He has one more year remaining on his current contract, which pays him $3.5 million in salary and bonuses this season and calls for him to make the same next season.

"I've been preparing since the day I walked in here for the day I get cut," Hawk said. "I've been cut before, so whenever they decide to let me roll, that's something I've been preparing for since I was 21 basically, when I got drafted. But I have no idea. I can't predict the future; I definitely don't try to. I don't deal in hypotheticals, that's for sure. They can tap me on the shoulder right now and get me out of here. So our contracts aren't real contracts like that. They're not obliged to keep me here through the end of, what, next year, I guess, my contract is.

"So I don't think I let like my mind wander or anything towards what could happen. That's not up to me, but try to hopefully get another ring, at least, before they give me the boot."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You might have heard this before: The phasing out of A.J. Hawk from the Green Bay Packers defense has begun.

It happened in 2010, when the inside linebacker did not play a single snap on defense in the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Days later, his agent went so far as to say Hawk would be open to a trade if the Packers weren't going to play him.

Hawk
A week later, Hawk was back in the lineup, had perhaps his best season and was the starter in Super Bowl XLV.

The former first-round pick finds himself in a similar spot.

His role in Sunday's 26-21 victory over the New England Patriots was greatly reduced. He played only in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' base package, which meant just 26 out of a possible 56 defensive snaps. Sam Barrington replaced him in the nickel package, playing next to Clay Matthews, who also played as the lone inside linebacker in the dime package (a role Hawk has played for most of his career).

"I thought our defense played great, so me personally, whenever I'm in, I'm going to play hard," Hawk said after the game. "It was awesome, the whole defensive effort."

With the Packers preparing for Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons, there's no telling what Hawk's role will be going forward.

"I would say it would vary from week to week," Capers said. "You saw him play every snap of our [base] defense. And you saw two weeks ago against Minnesota, we used Brad Jones inside in our dime defense. You saw Clay Matthews in there [Sunday]. Again, based off what our opponent is doing, you'll see different personnel groups and different people involved in those, and it could change from one week to the next based on your injury situation [and] who's available."

That would indicate Hawk remains in the Packers' plans. However, this isn't the 26-year-old Hawk of 2010. Four years later, Hawk might not be the player he was then. Although he insisted last week that he is healthy, Hawk looked like he was struggling in coverage against Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who on the first play of the Nov. 23 game caught a pass 2 yards from the line of scrimmage and ran away from Hawk for a 23-yard gain.

Perhaps with that play in his mind and with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski coming up next, Capers went with Matthews in the middle in the dime, a role he had never played before Sunday.

"The purpose is to try to get your best 11 people against who they put out there and the matchups," Capers said. "[Sunday] was going to be a big matchup game and if they got the matchup they wanted, I mean, you've seen them take Gronkowski and just wear people out on Gronkowski. That's why we were willing to have a number of different ways to cover him."

Another new spot for Clay Matthews

November, 17, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – If Dom Capers keeps this up, it's going to become nearly impossible to come up with a label for the position that Clay Matthews plays on the Green Bay Packers' defense.

As it was in Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Matthews played three different spots, one of which doesn't exactly have a name.

A week after he debuted at inside linebacker against the Chicago Bears, Matthews once again played the majority of his snaps there against the Eagles. He hardly ever played his old outside linebacker spot, instead playing another new position in which he lined up outside of the outside linebacker at times on either side of the line of scrimmage.

Here's how Matthews' 57 snaps broke down:
  • Inside linebacker: 37 snaps
  • Outside linebacker: 4
  • Outside of the outside linebacker: 16

Capers described the position with Matthews lined up to the right or left of a five-man defensive line like this: "He's basically the dime in that defense, but he's a big dime. It's a different look when we do it with him."

A typical dime package features six defensive backs. In this case, Matthews replaced the sixth defensive back, who typically would play in the slot.

Matthews recorded his second-quarter sack of Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez while in that outside-outside position, which, if Matthews rushes from that position, is equivalent to a wide-9 technique that some teams use with their defensive ends to get them matched up against tight ends. Matthews, who was unblocked on his sack, said that position is not much different than the traditional outside linebacker spot.

"It depends on whether I'm rushing or playing the run," Matthews said. "But much like the outside linebacker, it's a lot of the same responsibilities as far as whatever that responsibility is, but it's played very much the same."

According to coach Mike McCarthy, this was the plan all along for Matthews in Year 6 of his NFL career.

"I think we're kind of moving around our ready-list, frankly," McCarthy said Monday. "It's not like we're drawing up new things. These are concepts and schemes that we've been working on since Day 1, and the idea of moving Clay around our defense is something we talked about back in April."

But the Packers would not have moved Matthews to inside linebacker if they had someone else capable on their roster. They were hoping inside linebacker C.J. Mosley of Alabama would fall to them at No. 21 in the draft; they preferred Mosley over Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, who went at 15th to the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the Baltimore Ravens took Mosley at 17, the Packers' chances to acquire an impact inside linebacker were gone.

General manager Ted Thompson did well with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with that 21st overall pick, who looks like a long-term starter, but their problems at the inside linebacker spot next to A.J. Hawk necessitated Matthews' move after Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington all got shots at the job during the first half of the season.

And Capers might not be done moving Matthews around.

"We have plenty of different ways [to use him]," Capers said. "It's just figuring out what's going to work and what's going to give them the most problems. But we've got a lot of different packages."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mike McCarthy did not even want to talk about it when the subject was broached on Friday morning. A little while later, Josh Sitton knocked on his wooden locker at Lambeau Field.

The Green Bay Packers are by and large healthy this season, and that's newsworthy for a team that has been injury-plagued for the better part of McCarthy's tenure as head coach.

This week's injury report provide a snapshot of just how different this season has been in the Packers’ training room. Every Friday, before McCarthy takes the microphone for hisnews conference, public relations director Jason Wahlers reads the injury report. This week, it contained just four names: Sitton (toe), fellow starting guard T.J. Lang (ankle) -- both listed as a probable -- and a pair of backups, tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) and outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott hamstring), who were ruled out.

Never before in McCarthy's previous eight seasons as head coach had the Packers listed so few players on a Week 11 injury report.

"Let's talk about that after the season," McCarthy said, "because I don't want to jinx it."

But he added, "The numbers are good."

Anything might look good compared to the run of injury luck -- if luck actually has anything to do with injuries -- the Packers have been on the last several seasons. According to an annual offseason study by Football Outsiders, the Packers ranked ahead of only two teams in adjusted games lost to injuries. In 2012, no one was hit harder than the Packers, according to the same formula. Since 2008, the Packers have ranked in the top half of the NFL in adjusted games lost only twice -- in 2009 (12th) and 2011 (16th).

Football Outsiders has not compiled injury data yet this season, but the Packers have only one projected starter –--nose tackle B.J. Raji -- out for the season. He was lost to a torn biceps tendon in the preseason.

Only one offensive starter has missed a game (right tackle Bryan Bulaga in Week 2). On the other side of the ball, defensive end Datone Jones leads the way among starters with three missed games, while cornerback Sam Shields has missed two. No other defensive starter has missed more than one unless you count Brad Jones, the Week 1 starter at inside linebacker who upon his return after missing three games because of a thigh injury did not get his job back.

McCarthy has searched far and wide for ways to limit injuries. This season, he adopted a practice schedule similar to what Sunday's opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, have done under coach Chip Kelly.

"I look at really my time here, we've probably been through three generations of practice schedules," McCarthy said. "The first couple years, the amount of time that we were on the field was obviously extremely higher than it is now, and then we made adjustments, which I thought were favorable."

This year, in a normal, seven-day week before a Sunday game, the Packers practice Wednesday (not in pads), Thursday (in pads) and rest on Friday before a short practice on Saturday morning without pads.

"I've always been taught the philosophy of two days on and one day off," Sitton said Friday. "That's how I've always trained; that's how I train in the offseason. So, it makes sense to do it during the season. Your body can only handle so many days in a row. I think we've brought a lot more energy to the practice field. I seem to notice a difference."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers might have solved their two biggest problems on defense with one move.

Or maybe it was just a one-week wonder that caught the Chicago Bears off guard.

But on Sunday night, they filled their need for a playmaking inside linebacker and fixed their leaky run defense all at once.

Matthews
Yes, that was No. 52 lined up next to A.J. Hawk in the middle of the defense at a spot where defensive coordinator Dom Capers has tried -- and moved on from -- Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington.

Meet the Packers' new inside linebacker, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

In a defense cooked up during last week's bye, Matthews opened the game at inside linebacker and stayed there during most of Sunday's 55-14 victory against the Bears, except when Capers used his dime package on third-and-long situations. The rest of the night, Matthews played next to Hawk in a nickel alignment that served as the primary defense. Nick Perry started in Matthews' place at right outside linebacker.

Producing a team- and career-high 11 tackles (including nine solo stops) later -- and one sack, which came from his old outside linebacker spot -- Matthews' move was an instant success that took half a season to discover. He had never had more than eight tackles in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"We'll see what it means moving forward," Matthews said. "Obviously it's a little premature to say there's a switch to middle linebacker or whatever you want to call it, but I think as we've shown throughout the years, throughout this season as well, we try to find a little more versatility for myself."

The Packers came into the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 153.5 yards per game. They held the Bears, who rushed for 235 against them in Week 4, to just 55 yards on 24 attempts. It was the first time all season the Packers have held anyone to less than 100 yards in a game.

Now, for just the second time in seven weeks, they are not ranked last in the league in rushing defense. They climbed two spots to 30th, matching their highest ranking of the season.

"During the bye week, it's like everything, you have a chance to kind of reboot, to reset yourself for the second half of the season," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Playing Clay at different areas, a different position, to create targeting problems for the offense was something that we spent the whole offseason highlighting it, and this was kind of the next step. Great job by our defensive staff with the creativity, and Clay stepped in there and played at an extremely high level. I thought he was outstanding."

And what kind of inside linebacker does Hawk think his new partner made?

"Tonight, obviously, a pretty good one," Hawk said after the game. "I think being on the move, different times rushing off the edge or coming back and being in the box, that adds something that the offense hasn't seen until tonight, really."

Packers' bye-week review: Defense

October, 31, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With a 5-3 record midway through the season and in the midst of their bye, the Green Bay Packers are taking most of the week off. So it's a good time to review the first half of the season. On Thursday, we looked at the offense.

Here's a look at some of the first-half highlights, lowlights and other noteworthy items on defense:

MVPs
  • Mike Daniels: The third-year defensive tackle leads the Packers' defensive line with 2.5 sacks and leads the team with nine quarterback hits. It's a continuation of the way he played last year in his breakout season. Since the start of 2013, he leads the Packers with nine sacks.
  • Sam Shields: After he signed a four, $39 million contract in the offseason, he was performing like one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league should until a knee injury in Week 6 at Miami. He hasn't played since. Still, he ranks ninth among all NFL cornerbacks in ProFootballFocus.com's position rankings. He and fellow cornerback Casey Hayward are tied for the team lead with two interceptions apiece. The Packers need Shields back after the bye. His absence was felt in last week's loss to the Saints, who completed several deep passes over the top of the secondary.
  • Safeties: What was easily the weakest position on the roster last season has turned into one of the strengths thanks to the improved play of Morgan Burnett, who is having the best season of his five-year career, the addition of first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the move of second-year pro Micah Hyde from cornerback. That trio has given the Packers a group of sure-handed tacklers, and Sean Richardson made some plays in spot duty as well.
Disappointments
  • Inside linebackers: This is the safety position of last year. General manager Ted Thompson overestimated what he had at this spot, and it has become the weak link of the defense. Brad Jones was so bad before his quad injury that he didn't get his starting job back upon his return. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has tried both Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington at the spot next to A.J. Hawk, and all three have taken a turn as the dime inside linebacker. Capers clearly is still searching for someone to produce.
  • Datone Jones: After an ineffective rookie season last year, it has been more of the same for the Packers’ 2013 first-round pick. The opening-day starting defensive end has missed the last three games because of an ankle injury. He has only one sack and has been a nonfactor against the run, where the Packers rank dead last in the league.
  • Clay Matthews/Julius Peppers combination: It's not that they have played poorly but if you expected this pass-rushing duo to wreak havoc then you'd have to put them in this category. Matthews is off to the slowest start of his career in terms of his big-play production with just 2.5 sacks, while Peppers has four sacks, a forced fumbled and an interception return for a touchdown but tends to disappear at times.
Grades
  • Passing defense: The pass rush has been decent and the coverage has been solid. That combination has put the Packers back in the top-10 statistically in this category, ranking ninth overall in passing yards allowed and fifth in opponent passer rating. They're still living and dying by the turnover – too much for McCarthy's liking – but this unit has by and large done its job. Grade: B
  • Rushing defense: The best the Packers have fared against the run was in Week 7 against the Panthers, who still managed to rush for 108 yards as a team. Four times, the Packers have given up 147 yards or more on the ground, and three times that total has been more than 190. The decision to get leaner and more athletic (plus the season-ending biceps injury to nose tackle B.J. Raji in the preseason) has blown up in their face. No team has allowed more rushing yards per game (153.5) than the Packers. Grade: F

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

October, 28, 2014
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

The Packers have started three different players at the inside linebacker spot next to A.J. Hawk this season, and they have not gotten enough production out of any of them.

During this week's bye and before the Packers return to action on Nov. 9 against the Chicago Bears, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to decide whether to continue using both Sam Barrington and Jamari Lattimore in the spot that actually belonged to Brad Jones to start the season. Jones played poorly in Week 1 against Seattle and then went down with a quad injury. Although he has returned to action, he has not reclaimed a regular role on defense.

In Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, Barrington made his second straight start and played in the base and nickel packages alongside the veteran Hawk. But in the dime package, which used only one inside linebacker, Lattimore got the call.

It's unusual for the dime backer not to play in the other defensive packages. If the Packers had a player like they truly liked at that spot, they would play him on all three downs.

If the Packers could get more impact plays from their inside linebackers, perhaps it would help their struggling run defense, which has fallen back to last in the league after giving up 193 yards to the Saints.

"We've got different packages, and we'll constantly look at what we feel is going to give us the best chance to get things stopped," Capers said. "So obviously after a game like [Sunday] night, you go back and you're going to look at your run defensive stuff and try to make sure you get that corrected."

Missed tackles could've cost Packers

October, 17, 2014
10/17/14
5:45
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Aaron Rodgers had not directed that comeback drive in the final two minutes to beat the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers might have spent this week lamenting a pair of late-game missed tackles that would have cost them.

On the first play of the Dolphins' go-ahead touchdown drive, which began at their 21-yard line, receiver Mike Wallace caught a short out route at the 29-yard line, where Packers cornerback Casey Hayward dove at his ankles. Wallace broke free and continued down the left sideline for a 25-yard gain.

Three plays later, on third-and-2 from the Packers' 46-yard line, running back Lamar Miller caught a swing pass in the left flat, where linebacker Brad Jones had a chance to stop him two yards behind the line of scrimmage. But when Jones went for Miller's legs and came up empty handed, Miller turned it into a 20-yard gain. Two plays later, the Dolphins took a 24-17 lead on Wallace's 5-yard touchdown catch with 9:13 to play.

"We missed way too many tackles," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the Dolphins game. "The majority, 80 percent of our missed tackles were in the second half. I think we had two missed tackles at halftime."

And they finished with nine, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Those late-game missed tackles were surprising in the sense that the Packers had wrapped up well since their Week 1 tackling debacle in Seattle. They had not missed that many in a game since they whiffed 18 times against the Seahawks.

In the four games in between, the Packers averaged only six missed tackles per game.

But heading into Sunday's Week 7 game against the Carolina Panthers, the Packers have the sixth-most missed tackles in the NFL this season (see chart).

Asked this week whether he was happy with the Packers' tackling since Week 1, linebackers coach Winston Moss said: "As a coach, can you ever be pleased?"

That must be a no.

However, the Packers' tackling improvement has coincided with increased playing time for rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who has started to bring the physical presence the Packers had hoped when they drafted him in the first round. Since the opener, when Clinton-Dix missed an open-field tackle on Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette's 33-yard touchdown catch and also missed another tackle, he has missed only once.

Perhaps he had rubbed off on his teammates

"I think everyone on this team is a pretty good tackler," Clinton-Dix said. "But it is contagious. Once you see somebody else making plays, you want to make plays. They say interceptions are contagious. So coaches always emphasize tackling and being in the right spot at the right time, and that's something I've tried to work on."

Taking stock of the Packers' defense

October, 13, 2014
10/13/14
8:00
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One series, the Green Bay Packers' defense looks impenetrable. On another, it looks porous.

Even defensive coordinator Dom Capers would agree with that assessment.

"I see elements to where we'll play as good as any defense in the league and then all of a sudden we have a lull and people move the ball on us," Capers said Monday after reviewing Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Consider this: In the first half on Sunday, the Dolphins ran just 27 plays and totaled 87 yards. They had six possessions and scored three points. The Packers picked off two passes, forced two punts and had a fourth-down stop. In the second half, the Dolphins had touchdown drives of 80, 80 and 79 yards. Thus, the very definition of impenetrable and porous in the same game.

Here are some things to like and some not to like about the Packers defense, which at this point ranks 19th in yards allowed (368.0 per game) but is 12th in scoring defense (21.7 points per game) and second in opponent passer rating (72.4).

What to like
  • Takeaways: If you count the throwaway turnover the Dolphins gave them on the final play, and the NFL certainly does, the Packers have forced 11 turnovers in their last four games. The legitimate takeaways came from Sam Shields and Casey Hayward. Shields picked off his second pass in the last three games, while Hayward came up with his first of the year. The Packers' nine interceptions ranks second in the league behind the New York Giants. "We have to keep the takeaway-giveaway thing going because we know how important that is to winning," Capers said. "A big part of that is being able to disrupt the opposing quarterback."
  • Pass rush: Although this wasn't the 15-quarterback-hit performance the Packers had the previous week against the Vikings, the pass rush has been consistent most of the season. They only sacked Ryan Tannehill once and hit him just four times, according to the official game statistics, but ProFootballFocus.com also credited the Packers with seven other quarterback hurries. Of the Packers' 13 sacks this season, which ranks tied for 15th, the outside linebacker group has 7.5 of them. Against the Dolphins, Capers rotated Clay Matthews (49 of 58 snaps), Julius Peppers (42), Mike Neal (27) and Nick Perry (13). "I actually like the rotation that we had with Clay, Julius, Mike Neal and Nick Perry yesterday," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday.
  • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: The rookie safety has played like the Packers imagined he would when they drafted him in the first round. He registered a team-high seven tackles (all solo stops against the Dolphins), including one tackle for a loss, and had a pass breakup. "Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played his best game as a Packer," McCarthy said. For the third straight game, he played more snaps that starting safety Micah Hyde (37 to 34).
What not to like
  • Run defense: The Dolphins running backs (Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno) managed just 63 yards on 20 carries, but the Packers still gave up 112 yards rushing, and they're still giving up the most yards per game on the ground (154.5) in the NFL. The major problem against Miami was the read-option, which resulted in the 40-yard run by Tannehill. "I'll take that most days," Capers said of the running back production. "It wasn't like they gashed us running the ball there. They broke the one 40-yarder. We'll go back to work and get that cleaned up."
  • Missed tackles: By ProFootballFocus.com's count, the Packers missed eight tackles. By McCarthy's count, 80 percent of the Packers' missed tackles in the second half. "We missed way too many tackles," McCarthy said. A couple of them resulted in explosive gains on the Dolphins' go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Hayward and linebacker Brad Jones missed tackles on the same drive that resulted in pass plays of 25 yards to Mike Wallace and 21 yards to Miller, respectively, on the drive that put the Dolphins ahead 24-17 with 9:13 to play.
  • Matthews' big-play production: While the outside linebacker group has been solid as a whole, Matthews has not put up big numbers. He has just one sack this season and against the Dolphins, he did not register a single tackle. However, he did have a quarterback hit and batted down a pass in the fourth quarter on Miami's final drive. "Production will come," McCarthy said. "And I think history will show you it usually comes in chunks."

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