If you talk to the average Green Bay Packers fan, one thing usually comes up: Our defense isn’t very good.
After the loss to the Minnesota Vikings at home and a terrible second half of football against the Indianapolis Colts, many were calling for the head of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. It will take a long time for people to get over what they saw last year at the NFC Championship game. The San Francisco 49ers completely exposed the Packers.
But here the Packers are again, ending another year with a fantastic record of either 13-3 or 12-4. They will quite possibly be the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Their defense might be the best of the top NFC contenders and have the most depth. So how did we get here?
The offseason defensively was pretty quiet. They signed inside linebacker Christian Kirksey hoping he could stay healthy. He has for the most part, but only has 42 tackles and one sack. They drafted linebacker Kamal Martin with the 175th pick and safety Vernon Scott with the 236th pick, and they also signed defensive back Chandon Sullivan to a one-year contract and signed linebacker Krys Barnes as an undrafted free agent among others.
There was cause for some concern, it was pretty quiet. But fans also forgot about faith in the process and player development.
The Names You Know
The Packers only had two defensive players selected to the Pro Bowl, Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith. We know they are great. Kenny Clark was re-signed and will be a strong piece for years to come. Rashan Gary has had an impressive sophomore season and has helped motivate Preston Smith to play better after losing snaps to Gary. Kevin King and Josh Jackson are solid counterparts to Alexander when healthy.
Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are our safeties, and we are lucky to have them. Amos had a solid but pretty quiet 2019 season after signing a four-year deal with Green Bay. Savage, like Gary, is having a breakout sophomore season as well.
Since Week 11, the two highest graded safeties according to PFF are Savage and Amos. Savage with an 88.5 and Amos with an 84.7. It’s honestly hard to break down how good these two have played. They are making plays, in the right spots and absolutely hitting people all over the field. On the season, Amos has 59 tackles, two sacks, and one interception. Savage has fewer tackles and sacks at 48 and one, but he has four interceptions. All four of those have been during Weeks 12-16.
Defensive Depth Contributing
Playing your best defense going into the playoffs is key to winning a Super Bowl. The Packers are currently doing that. Besides their star players, their youth and depth are also contributing.
- Chandon Sullivan – 29 tackles and one interception as a backup cornerback.
- Vernon Scott – 11 tackles and one sack and has only played half the games this year as a rookie.
- Will Redmond – 19 tackles over 9 games.
- Kamal Martin – injured until Week 7, but has 17 tackles and one sack. The other defensive player Green Bay drafted is also making an impact.
- Krys Barnes – only played 12 games so far due to being on the COVID List. The undrafted linebacker has had 40 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. You better remember that forced fumble too. It was the goal line Teddy Bridgewater fumble against the Carolina Panthers.
Martin and Barnes are really starting to stand out for me. They are getting more snaps and making the most of it. That means the Packers’ defense has three rookies already contributing, two sophomore players who are breaking out, borderline Pro Bowl players, and maybe the best cornerback in the NFC.
Other Defensive Stats
The Packers defense is ranked seventh at yards per game with 332.5. They are currently giving up an average of 23.5 points per game, however, middle of the pack and not exactly impressive — but it could be a lot worse. Plus, those stats are a little unfair. Green Bay is first offensively in points per game at 31.6. That means a lot of these games were already over, and the Packers’ defense has given up a lot of garbage time points. Their three losses haven’t been pretty at all and could show up again in the playoffs, but that defense hasn’t appeared in five weeks. That is the last time the Packers lost as well.
The Packers’ run defense hasn’t been awful either this year. They are averaging 113 rushing yards a game. That average is better than other Super Bowl favorites like the Chiefs, Bills and Titans. Again, that isn’t spectacular, but besides the Minnesota game and Dalvin Cook, teams aren’t running all over them. They just held Derrick Henry to 98 rushing yards, and it was possibly the best defensive gameplan that Pettine has had while with the Packers. Don’t quote me on that.
The Packers should end the year at 13-3, have the No. 1 seed, and be able to take care of the Chicago Bears defensively in Week 17. The true challenge will be the playoffs. They will most likely have to run into the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks or Tampa Buccaneers at some point. The Packers took care of New Orleans pretty easily earlier this year but were dominated by Tom Brady and Bucs. Seattle is always a tough matchup and bitter playoff rivals. The Los Angeles Rams aren’t a walk in the park either, depending on the health of Jared Goff.
It won’t be easy for this defense, and it will be up to them to step up and help bring home a Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers should be this year’s MVP, and a defense to back him up would be the icing on the cake.
Let’s hope the defense has four more impressive games in them this year. And if not impressive, make sure they aren’t embarrassing.