Without question, the main weak point for the Green Bay Packers for the past two seasons has been their defense. While the offense carries the team to two straight NFC North titles, the defense has come up short in the playoffs, giving up two big performances. In 2011, it was Eli Manning who torched the Packers defense and last weekend, it was first-year quarterback Colin Capernick and the read option offense by the San Francisco 49ers. However, while there are still gaping holes on the defensive side of the ball, there were still a few players who did an outstanding job for the Green Bay defense. Those players are linebacker Clay Matthews and rookie cornerback Casey Hayward.
After a disappointing season in 2011, Matthews was set to have another great year after the Packers drafted plenty of help for him on defense. Last season, Matthews only recorded six sacks and it was the first year where he didn’t have double digit sacks. Though his performance was down, it was not all his fault. The Packers were 27th ranked in sacks in 2011 and, outside of Matthews, had no threat of getting to the quarterback. Matthews was constantly double-teamed and was obsolete for most of the season.
This year was more of the same for the Packers. There was no pressure created outside of Matthews. This time, though, Matthews was able to put up big numbers. In just 12 games this season, Matthews recorded 13 sacks, just short of his career high set in 2010. The next highest sack total on the Packers was 4.5 by Mike Neal. With the pass rush eluding the Packers for the second straight year, Matthews still had the most pressure and responsibility on the Green Bay defense. He was able to answer the pressure each week and helped the Packers defense maintain some decency.
As for Hayward, he may have been the biggest surprise for the Packers defense this season. He was the third-round draft choice by the Packers and was a player many considered to be the best draft pick by Green Bay. After the season he had, it is easy to why. He had six interceptions, which was the double the amount of the next player on the team, Sam Shields. Under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, the Packers have been one of the league leaders in interceptions every season, but this year was different. The Packers only had 18 total and didn’t show the playmaking ability that they have had the past few seasons. Hayward dominated the secondary and has put himself in contention to win rookie of the year.
Even with the surprising play of Hayward leading the team in interceptions, the MVP for the Packers defense has to go to Matthews. He is still the anchor of the front line and without him, the team would be in serious trouble. Green Bay had one or zero sacks in three of the four games that Matthews missed, proving how valuable he is to the team.
No matter who you choose as the defensive MVP for the Packers, there is no arguing that Matthews and Hayward both had great seasons on which the Packers can hang their hats.
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