Trivia question for you Green Bay Packers fans. When is the last time the Packers defense had a game-changer at inside or middle linebacker? Yes, it has been a very long time. While the Packers have had adequate inside linebackers, it has been a long time since they had one who made game-changing plays. Adequate inside linebacker play is currently what the Packers have at inside linebacker. While at best adequate, starting inside linebacker Blake Martinez isn’t making the types of plays that the Packers defense is in need of.
Blake Martinez Needs to Start Making Plays for Green Bay Packers Defense
While watching game tape of linebacker Blake Martinez, it brings back memories of another former Packer inside linebacker.
From 2006-2014, A.J. Hawk roamed the middle of the Packers defense. Like with Blake Martinez, Hawk was dependable in regards to his availability. He was also considered a “field general“, which many consider Martinez to be.
Being considered dependable and a field general are two very strong attributes for an NFL inside linebacker. But there is one attribute, and attribute that trumps all-others, that an inside linebacker must possess. That being the ability to make game-changing plays, something Hawk didn’t have, and now Martinez is lacking.
The Packers middle of their defense is struggling. Which can be linked back to Blake Martinez and his lack of game-changing plays.
Soft Underbelly of the Packers Defense
Former Green and Gold Today Radio show host Bill Johnson when talking about the Packers inside linebacker play once coined the phrase “the soft underbelly”. He made this comment when the Packers were being led by former defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Fast forward to 2019, with current defensive coordinator Mike Pettine now in charge, the exact same phrase can be used. Currently, the Packers are 21st in the league against the run.
The Packers defensive front has played a part in the Packers struggles against the run. The starting defensive front, which includes starting defensive end Dean Lowry, nose tackle Kenny Clark, and the other defensive end spot that is held down by Montravius Adams and Tyler Lancaster, have had their struggles. But when they have done their job and held the point of attack, Martinez hasn’t made the plays he should.
Recently, Ben Fennell of The Athletic showed some great examples of how Martinez has failed to clean up on run plays. It is just a small example, but it shows how Martinez, even when unblocked, is missing tackles.
As pointed out by Andy Herman of the Pack A Day podcast, after the Packers loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Blake Martinez earned a 48.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. That has him ranked tied with fellow Packers linebacker BJ Goodson. Goodson in comparison to Martinez hasn’t played nearly the snaps Martinez has.
Packers Defense Needs Martinez to Improve
If the Packers run defense is going to have any chance to get better, Blake Martinez is going to need to turn around his play. But that task will be very difficult this coming Sunday.
The Packers will face off against the Carolina Panthers. The Panther run game is lead by league MVP candidate running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey enters this game with 881 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns on the ground. He carries with him a 5.3 yards per carry average.
McCaffrey also is a weapon in the Panthers passing attack. Along with his impressive numbers on the ground, he has also hauled in 42 passes for 363 yards and three receiving touchdowns. McCaffrey’s dual-threat ability doesn’t bode well for Martinez. Along with his struggles against the run, Martinez has had issues in pass coverage.
This week might be the week that the Packers start to utilized little-used linebacker Oren Burks. The Packers selected Burks in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. Many believed that Burks was drafted to fill the nickel linebacker spot in Pettine’s defense. But injuries have caused him to miss time and when healthy, most of his time has come on special teams.
If Pettine believes that Burks isn’t the answer, the Packers might turn to Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell was just recently activated from the PUP. Although a safety, Pettine could drop Campbell down to linebacker and have him take the place of Martinez in passing situations.
Relying on Blake Martinez
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst is placing his trust in Blake Martinez. Inside linebacker was rumored to be a position that Gutekunst might upgrade at the trade deadline. But Gutekunst stood pat and didn’t make a move.
So it will be up to Martinez to step up his game. Last season, he registered 144 combined tackles (91 of them solo). That had him ranked second overall in the NFL for tackles. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Out of those 144 combined tackles, only 10 of them were for a loss. A low number considering how many tackles he registered. But with the struggles Martinez is having this season on potential tackles while unblocked, the Packers can only hope he can improve that part of his play.
For now, the Packers have to hope Martinez can get his act together. Inside linebacker will be a need going into free agency and next year’s draft. But for now, it is up to Blake Martinez to start making the plays necessary to turn around the Packers middle of their defense.
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