In a ferocious defensive battle between two teams with a storied history of playing hard-nosed defense and with lineups Sunday that included some of the best defenders in the NFL, a run-of-the-mill outside linebacker named Erik Walden made the most plays.
The outside backers
In the first meeting this year between the teams, Jay Cutler scrambled for 37 yards. That no doubt was why the Packers often used Walden as a so-called spy on the Bears’ quarterback.
Walden would move into the center of the field five, six yards off the ball to make sure that Cutler wasn’t going to cut the Packers up on the ground. The plan obviously was to pressure Cutler, but also to keep him in the pocket.
In addition, the Bears seemed to be trying to take Clay Matthews out of the game by formation. They motioned tight ends to his side and forced Matthews to widen out, which meant he had a longer distance to go to get to the quarterback. The Bears kept tight ends in to block him and also did a lot of chip blocking on him. So Walden also was a beneficiary of the Bears’ game plan.
But take nothing away from Walden. He ran plays down in the running game. And he’s 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. He has some strength behind him when he makes a tackle. He might be the fourth player the Packers have used at right outside linebacker this year, but he looks to be a better athlete than Frank Zombo and Brady Poppinga, and maybe Brad Jones as well.
Walden might be a little bit of a liability on the edge against runs coming at him, but he has more speed than those guys to run people down on the other side of the field.
After zeroing in on Matthews, it appears as though he’s getting away from what made him special. He seems to be jumping around more before the snap instead of just lining up and going. Maybe if he wasn’t trying so hard to get into the lineman’s head, he’d have a better burst off the ball