The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers squared off in Week 1, but plenty has changed in the 17 weeks since then. I thought we'd take a look at both sides of the ball with a little help from our friends at Acme Packing Company. Earlier today, we spoke with Jason Hirschhorn about the Packers offense. This afternoon, he's back with some answers about the Packers defense. Additionally, feel free to check back on the previous questions I asked Jason back before Week 1.
1. The big news is Clay Matthews likely remains out with his thumb injury. Who will start in his place, and how have they performed thus far?
During Clay Matthews' multiple absences this season, the Packers have replaced him with linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal. Perry is a former first round pick who creates pressure but has trouble staying on the field. Neal too has struggled to stay healthy, but he's been more inconsistent as a player. Each has flashed at time this season, but for the most part they've only done so with Matthews across from them. Obviously, they won't have that luxury against the 49ers.
2. Pro Football Focus has graded out Mike Daniels out as the Packers best defensive player by a long shot. Tell us about him and his emergence.
We actually covered him on Wednesday in our joint Players Under the Radar piece. Here's the summary. He's an undersized defensive lineman with a high motor not too unlike the Bengals' Geno Atkins. He excels at getting under offensive linemen's center of gravity and pushing past them. While the interior of San Francisco's offensive line will provide one of his biggest challenges to date, expect him to make several plays pushing Colin Kaepernick out of the pocket.
3. The Packers defense has struggled this season, ranking near the bottom of most rankings. What is the problem with the defense?
It's been one of those lost years for the Packers defense. So many players have lost considerable time to injuries and/or been limited in others. We covered Matthews' multiple absences, but it's worth noting that each of his replacements -- Perry and Neal -- have missed time too. Two of the Packers three top corners lost multiple games (Casey Hayward essentially sat out the entire season), and their top safety was unavailable for the first quarter of the season. The defensive line too has had issues keeping guys healthy. In all, there have been far more than your usual attrition.
4. On the other hand, Football Outsiders ranks them 5th in adjusted sack rate, and they are 8th in total sacks. Tell us about the pass rush.
Part of this is Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews, but some credit here belongs to coordinator Dom Capers. He schemed up some creative game plans this year to compensate for the missing defensive talent, and as a result the team jumped up considerably in the pressure metrics. While it certainly hasn't been a return to his "Blitzburgh" days, Capers will send defensive backs and linebackers from unexpected places to pressure the quarterback.
5. What can you tell us about the special teams units?
The return unit has been decent with Micah Hyde handling punts and kickoffs, and it figures to get a boost with Randall Cobb potentially getting some burn there. Following the parade of injuries that hit the team in the middle of the year, the special teams coverage units found themselves significantly depleted. They've bounced back in recent weeks, but as the Bears and Steelers demonstrated the past few weeks, they remain vulnerable.