After a promising stretch last year, the Green Bay Packers’ defense sputtered out early in the NFC Championship against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What has been a stumbling block in so many postseasons for Green Bay reared its ugly head yet again. The cherry on top was Scotty Miller‘s 39-yard touchdown with 0:01 left in the first half as he torched Kevin King on an awful play call by Mike Pettine to go Cover 1, given the circumstances.
With new defensive coordinator Joe Barry and most of the unit from last year returning, plus a couple of rookies, this Packers defensive unit will have a good shot out of the gate to prove they can be a top-tier unit, especially given their schedule.
They start the season on the road against the New Orleans Saints. In any of the past 15 seasons, that meant a date with Drew Brees. But he retired this offseason, and now the Saints will hand the keys over to either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill. While both offer completely different challenges for defenses, neither is a proven commodity.
Winston is a former No. 1-overall pick, and his struggles as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers have been well documented. While Sean Payton is a proven offensive mind, it certainly helped to have Brees for over a decade. For this Packers defense to get either Winston or Hill right from the start is a bit of good fortune.
The Saints’ name carries its own weight across the league, as does Payton’s, but it’s uncertain whether Winston or Hill can be a long-term answer to Brees’ absence. Whoever is under center Week 1 for the Saints, this Packers defense has a chance to take an opportunistic approach and be the aggressor. They aren’t facing the Saints in Week 8 or Week 9 when they will have more of a concrete idea of how their quarterback situation has played out. Week 1, they will likely still be in the compare-and-contrast stage of their quarterback dilemma. It presents a perfect chance for Green Bay to pounce and show they can be a top-tier defense this year.
Playmakers are spread throughout this Green Bay defense. Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary — we could keep going. The fact that this Packers defense wasn’t more consistent last year is a bit puzzling. They strung together so many solid performances at the tail end of the season only to see it meltdown one win short of a Super Bowl appearance.
Week 2 features the Packers having a ton of playmakers on defense against a Detroit Lions team that now has Jared Goff and not much of a supporting cast.
Goff was extremely underwhelming against the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round last year. He didn’t make the big mistake, but he threw for less than 175 yards and had one lone touchdown. Goff did that while having Sean McVay and a Los Angeles Rams offense that featured a good amount of help around him. Now he’s in Detroit.
Gone is Kenny Golladay. Gone is Marvin Jones. Gone is Danny Amendola. D’Andre Swift might be a solid option at running back, and T.J. Hockenson is one of the better young tight ends in the NFL. But let’s not be fooled; the cast of characters around Goff in Detroit and the drop-off from Stafford to Goff will have teams salivating at the chance to tee off against the Lions in 2021.
Green Bay will have their first chance in 2021 in Week 2. The Lions are in a retool, maybe a rebuild? They took Penei Sewell in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Sewell was highly regarded as the one lock in this draft class. While he may be just that, he’s not a weapon on this offense for the Lions. Joe Barry will have a chance in Week 2 to scheme against a quarterback that just face-planted with the Rams and is likely lacking the confidence he carried with him after a Super Bowl appearance in 2018. It’s again a chance for Green Bay’s defense to put on display how much they really got better with their new defensive coordinator.
Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers took Trey Lance with the third pick in this year’s draft. There’s a belief around the league that, despite the pick, Jimmy Garoppolo will start the season under center for the Niners. Shanahan has proven time and again at multiple stops that he knows how to coach an offense. He had Kirk Cousins balling out in Washington, helped turn Matt Ryan into an MVP with the Atlanta Falcons, and now has turned the 49ers into a well-balanced attack.
Garoppolo gives the Packers a legitimate shot to succeed in Week 3, but Shanahan has had success against the Packers before. The thought here is that the averageness of Garoppolo combined with Shanahan’s genius presents Green Bay’s defense their best test in the first three games this year. But it still gives them an advantageous matchup as far as things go on the field.
You could do a lot worse than Winston, Goff, and Garoppolo out of the gate to start a season. All three fall into the middle of the pack of quarterback rankings in the NFL, maybe a touch lower.
We don’t know if Joe Barry will work out, and we don’t know if things will change with this defense. What is known is that this Packers defense has loaded talent at all three levels of the defense and will face three meh quarterbacks to start the season. It’s a chance for this defense to show they can be a top-tier unit.