Green Bay Packers Defense Fully Belongs to Mike Pettine

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is making sure that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has enough weapons to succeed. He inked three defensive free agents, Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith, to big-money contracts this off-season. He then followed that up by spending first-round picks on Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage. While new Packers head coach Matt LaFleur will be focusing on the Packers offense, Pettine will be responsible for the defensive side of the ball. Pettine might have the title of defensive coordinator, but his job title could very well be the head coach of the defense. Pettine has become the top general for the Green Bay Packers defense.

Green Bay Packers Defense Fully Belongs to Mike Pettine

It just isn’t just the new additions that are showing that Gutekunst is all in on a Mike Pettine led Packers defense.

Last week, the Packers announced the release of seven-year veteran Mike Daniels. The outspoken Daniels had been a leader of the Packers defensive line. During his seven-year Packers career, Daniels registered 225 total tackles and 29 sacks. Although standing 6’0″ tall, Daniels was a major inside pass-rushing presence for the Packers defense.

Mike Pettine wants a certain type on his defensive line. Unfortunately for Daniels, he didn’t fit that mold. From all indications, Pettine wants more size on the interior of the defensive line. While Daniels was a strong inside pass rusher, the 6’0″ former Iowa Hawkeye didn’t fit the size guidelines that Pettine wants. Along with his age and contract, Gutekunst made the decision to move in another direction.

It appears that Daniels replacement will be three-year veteran, Dean Lowry. Shortly before Daniels was released, it was announced that Lowry had signed a new contract extension.

Lowry fits the Mike Pettine mold for a defensive lineman. Lowry is 6’6″ and has the ability to line up inside as well as line up outside in certain defensive alignments. In his three year career, Lowry has started 19 games registering 85 total tackles with seven sacks.

Lowry won’t be the only three-year veteran that will need to help with the loss of Daniels. Kenny Clark is coming off a career season. Last season, he registered 55 total tackles and had a career-best six sacks from the nose tackle position. The past two seasons, Clark has registered 10.5 sacks.

Clark has two years left on his contract. With the savings from releasing Daniels, it appears that money will go to signing Clark to a new contract. Clark no doubt will receive a contract extension soon. He is young and has outplayed his rookie deal. He appears to be a key member of Mike Pettine’s defensive line.

Reshaping the Outside Pass Rush

The outside linebacker position also got a makeover to fit what Mike Pettine is doing.

Gutekunst allowed longtime outside linebacker Clay Matthews to depart this off-season and sign a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Rams. Along with Matthews departing, Gutekunst released oft-injured outside linebacker, Nick Perry.

Gutekunst focused on a certain type when replacing Matthews and Perry. The Smiths are both bigger than Matthews and Perry. They have the ability to lineup inside and outside on the defensive line. Along with that, the Smiths don’t have the injury histories that Matthews and Perry carry.

While Gary did deal with a shoulder injury at Michigan, he too has the interchangeable ability that the Smiths have. He is another big explosive athlete, which appears to be what Mike Pettine wants on his defense.

Dom Capers, the Packers former defensive coordinator, ran a 3-4 defense. Mike Pettine runs a version of a 3-4 difference, but it looks very different. Gutekunst removed the type of outside linebackers who were a better fit in Capers defense. Replacing them with outside linebackers who are a better fit in Pettine’s 3-4 version.

All the Eggs in Mike Pettine’s Basket

Much was written about the success Mike Pettine had as the New York Jets defensive coordinator from 2009-2012. During that span, the lowest the Jets finished in total defense was eighth. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, Pettine was the defensive coordinator for the Jets during that time. However, then head coach Rex Ryan was the defensive play-caller, not Pettine. So it can be argued that the Jets defensive success was more because of Ryan than Pettine.

In 2013, Pettine moved on to the Buffalo Bills. That season, Pettine served as the defensive coordinator. It also allowed him to call the defense for the first time. He coordinated the Bills defense to a top ten total defensive finish.

Last season, his first as the Packers defensive coordinator, the Packers finished 18th in total defense.

If you were to exclude Pettine’s time with Ryan, he has coordinated a defense just two times with those defenses finishing 10th and 18th in total defense. Still, Gutekunst and the Packers are putting a lot of trust in Pettine.

Gutekunst and LaFleur seem to be putting a lot of faith in Pettine. Gutekunst has reshaped the Packers defensive roster to fit what Pettine wants. While it appears that LaFleur is giving Pettine full authority of the Packers defense.

If Mike Pettine and his Packers defense falter, it not only will put LaFleur in a difficult situation as first-time head coach, but it will also put into question the moves Gutekunst made. Pettine might have gained a lot of pull, but it also put him squarely under the microscope.

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