Much of the discussion surrounding the Green Bay Packers off-season needs has focused around the wide receiving corps and the defense. The defense has been a major topic of concern within the state of Wisconsin for some time now. The Packers made some changes in their coaching staff, most notably the new defensive coordinator. Still, when setting goals for the defense in 2018, it is important to pick valuable metrics.
Setting Goals for the 2018 Green Bay Packers Defense
The Packers were in the bottom half in many defensive categories last year. As a matter of fact, they were in the bottom ten in points per game, third down percentage and forced fumbles. They were 22nd in yards per game. These are generally considered some of the key statistics by which we measure defenses.
To parse out the numbers, the Packers gave up 348.9 yards per game (22nd) and 24.0 points per game (26th). Additionally, the Packers had just 11 Interceptions (20th) and ten forced fumbles (26th). Still, they did recover all ten of those fumbles, good enough for a tie for eighth in the NFL. The issues in getting the defense off the field can be seen in the 37 sacks the team managed (17th) and the 43 percent third-down conversion rate (28th).
Comparison to the Top
The Packers were a long ways from the top teams in these categories. This was not just in the ranking, but the pure statistic. For instance, the Packers gave up 73.0 yards more per game than the top-ranked Minnesota Vikings. That Viking defense also gave up 8.2 fewer points per game and held opponents to a third-down conversion rate 18 percentage points lower than the Packers.
For turnovers, the Baltimore Ravens led the way in interceptions with 22, doubling the Packers. The Dallas Cowboys also doubled the Packers in forced fumbles with 20. The Chicago Bears even managed to notch four more fumble recoveries than the Packers. Even the pressure in the passing game was lacking. The Pittsburgh Steelers led the league with 56.0 sacks. That is a full 19 more than the Packers.
Clearly, there is a large gap between the Packers and the elite defenses.
Getting to Top Ten
With an elite quarterback, the Packers really do not need the best defense. A top ten defense would make this team pretty difficult to stop. In reality, the Packers are not far off from being that sort of team.
The Packers are already a top ten team in fumble recoveries and they could reach top ten in forced fumbles by adding just six more. Green Bay is just 29.8 yards a game from catching the tenth place Bears and only 3.6 points per game from matching the tenth place New Orleans Saints. The Packers are five away from catching the Kansas City Chiefs in interceptions and the Bears and Saints in sacks. Finally, Green Bay is a manageable six percentage points behind New Orleans in third down conversions.
Sure, the goal every year is to be the best defense and keep building until you are. Still, the 1985 Bears did not return to the Super Bowl. The 2000 Ravens took a generation to rebuild. The vaunted Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense delivered just one Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks built a great defense and then spent a great deal to lock up those stars long term, they have fallen further from the Super Bowl each successive season. Few of the all-time great defenses bring lasting success these days.
The Packers need to steal back a few points, a few sacks and a few interceptions and they will be a top ten defense. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can get some excitement and new scheming to maybe add a few things. Just one pass rusher or one defensive back could make a legitimate jump. The important part is remembering what the jump is. There is no need to swing for the fences and spend the off-season comparing the Packers to the Vikings. The Packers should be looking to leapfrog the Bears and the Saints.
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