Experts will give mixed impressions of the performance of the Green Bay linebackers in 2011. Like many other positional groups on the Packers’ roster, the corps had its ups and downs. The run defense had some rough outings, like those against Minnesota and Chicago (at home), but still finished the season a respectable 14th in rushing yards allowed. The abysmal performance of the pass defense, however, must be reflected in the outside linebackers’ grade.
Ted Thompson’s choice to add just one late-round draft pick to the platoon at right outside linebacker proved to be a poor one as the rotation routinely came up short opposite of Clay Matthews. Erik Walden was not the same force that got to quarterbacks late in 2010 while Brad Jones played so poorly in camp that many thought he would get cut.
I’m hesitant to point the finger at Matthews but it’s hard to include him among the league’s best pass rushers if he can’t carry the load on his own. Put another way, the league’s 32nd ranked pass defense should not include an elite pass rusher. Matthews did, however, show better versatility as an outside linebacker. He played the run better than in years past and even picked off three passes.
Outside Linebackers Grade: C-
It was sad to see long-time Packer Nick Barnett go but fans can’t complain about the guy who took his spot. Desmond Bishop was having a pro bowl year before getting injured in the Thanksgiving Day clash with the Lions. Bishop was not as much of a liability in pass coverage and was all around spectacular against the run. The Packers may also have something in another late-round linebacker, D.J. Smith.
A.J. Hawk was at the other end of the spectrum in terms of performance in 2011. After restructuring his contract in March, Hawk rode a new, still-lucrative contract into training camp. Truth be told, the six-year veteran was by far the most overpaid player on the Packers’ roster when you compare output versus salary. Hawk was consistently mediocre, just as he’s been his entire career in Green Bay.