By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Much to the consternation of the Green Bay Packers, defense still matters in the NFL.
As powerful as the offense was last season when the Packers rolled to a 15-1 record, head coach Mike McCarthy suffered as he watched his defense give up big play after big play and touchdown after touchdown.
On the surface, it seemed like the Packers were leading the new NFL. The Packers, the Saints and the Patriots all used a dominant offense and a substandard defense to roll through the regular season. None of those teams won the Super Bowl. The New York Giants played a more well-rounded game and came away with the championship.
Mike McCarthy’s goal during the offseason is to improve his defensive personnel and up that unit’s competitiveness so that Green Bay becomes a force on defense once again. When you have a stud like Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the offense is still going to be the main part of the story in 2012, but the defense can’t be last in passing yards allowed and total yards allowed again. The Bears are hoping that the Packers don’t make any key inroads in that area.
McCarthy and Ted Thompson know this team has to add more pass rush and improve its coverage. It has made a couple of move in free agency to help the defensive line. Former Seahawk defensive end Anthony Hargrove and free-agent defensive tackle Daniel Muir are not going to be stars but they will give the Packers more depth.
They also signed center Jeff Saturday to solidify the offensive line. This move is also designed to help the defense. The Packers’ offense was often explosive and did not often stay on the field to complete long drives. By signing a solid run blocker like Saturday, the Packers are hoping to improve their running game and their time of possession. This will take pressure off the beleaguered defense.
The big moves will come in the draft for the Packers. They have 12 picks in the seven-round draft and don’t be surprised if the Packers choose 10 defensive players. The Packers are looking for high-impact players and also for depth. They want to bring in players that can stoke the competitive fires and improve the team’s overall tackling. This is an area that suffered throughout the season. The tackling ranged from indifferent to atrocious.
McCarthy acknowledged this at league meetings last week when he met with the media. “The pass rush and pass coverage, if you’re looking for a statistical striking point, would be where we’re focused on,” McCarthy said. “But I always go back to the fundamentals. We were not a very good tackling team last year. That will change.”
The Packers will likely play without safety Nick Collins, who had surgery last season on his neck. He is still awaiting word from his physicians about whether he can resume his career, but McCarthy said that if Collins were his son, he would tell him to retire.
The Packers will have the 28th pick in the first round and that will put them in a position to select Alabama strong safety Mark Barron, Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still or Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes. In light of Collins’ situation, Barron might be the best pick for the Packers if he is available.
Barron is a big, strong hitter at 6-1 and 213 pounds, but he recently had double hernia surgery. Barron is a ball hawk and a big hitter, but he will go for the knockout instead of wrapping up and can get sloppy with his tackling form.
After the first round, the Packers must continue to address the secondary, especially after seeing the Bears trade for big-play wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bears will likely add one or two more receivers prior to the start of training camp, so the Packers know that they have to upgrade in the secondary. McCarthy knows his team can’t handle Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and it will likely have the same problem with Marshall.
The Packers’ defense rested last season – McCarthy hopes it won’t in 2012.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.