Green Bay Packers

The Best Way Green Bay Can Prevent Big Plays

Photo credit: Dan Powers (USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Ho hum, another big win for the Green Bay Packers. Last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings proved to be nothing more than a blip on the radar, much to the chagrin of Vikings fans statewide. It was more of the usual story: The Packers had so many players injured, but the roster’s depth stood out, and the guys made enough plays to win.

It cannot be overstated how vital Brian Gutekunst’s work on the fringes of the roster has been to Green Bay’s success. The addition of players like Rasul Douglas, who was wasting away on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, has proved to be massive for a team that desperately needs all the depth it can get. It has been tough sledding on both sides of the ball in that regard, but the bench players have stepped up to ensure they do not waste another year of Aaron Rodgers’ career.

Green Bay’s run to 9-3 has been nothing short of magical. It has a bit of an added charm to it, considering the initial projections and outcry after the Week 1 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The improvements have been drastic, tangible, and appear poised to propel Green Bay into another deep playoff run.

Though Gutekunst has laid the foundation for a Super Bowl-contending team long ago, it is not without cracks. The offensive line depth has been surprisingly solid, and many wide receivers have stepped up in a big way when players have been sidelined for various reasons. However, the reviews have been a little more mixed on the defensive side of the ball.

Douglas’ impact at the CB position cannot be denied, that is for sure. However, some of the existing depth in the secondary has lent itself to some suspect plays on the season. Joe Barry’s defense has undoubtedly ascribed to the “bend, don’t break” mantra all season long. But there have been some big plays given up in the last couple of weeks that could be cause for concern.

They gave up two passing touchdowns of 50-plus yards against the Los Angeles Rams alone. The first was a 79-yard toss to Van Jefferson in the second quarter, where reserve CB Chandon Sullivan got burned up the middle of the field.

Sullivan has been mostly reliable in his career thus far, but he has demonstrated a propensity for giving up chunk plays at inopportune times. The Jefferson touchdown put the score at 10-7 and opened the door for the Rams to get back into the game. Working within a defense that was missing top CBs Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, the reserves need to ensure that these significant plays don’t happen regularly.

The long touchdown to Odell Beckham Jr. did not do much to ease concerns either. LA exposed a significant caveat in Douglas’ game on the 51-yard bomb: He’s getting old. Douglas is a smart and physical player, but he doesn’t have the same step to keep up in a downfield sprint when he gets matched up against speedy WRs.

Douglas could be forgiven in the sense that he was matched up against a guy who many regarded as the best WR in the league just a few years ago. However, it makes it all the more apparent that the Packers desperately need to get Alexander and King back before the stretch run to prevent any more mishaps from players that are better suited for reserve roles. Douglas has been a transcendent find and was GB’s best PFF-ranked defender from the LA game (91.2), but he should not be playing every single snap as the team looks to preserve his health.

Fortunately, Eric Stokes recaptured his form after a couple of gaffes against Minnesota last week. He has had a sharp learning curve throughout his rookie season, but the CB group may have crumbled without his speed and physicality. Even though he got “killed” by Justin Jefferson last week, Stokes is shaping up to be a mainstay of Barry’s defense.

The recent outbreak of big plays given up in the last two weeks could be ascribed to the simple notion that reserve players are playing too many snaps. This team needs to get healthy on both sides of the ball to realize its true potential. Stokes isn’t quite ready to be a CB1 yet, and the waterfall effect of guys punching above their weight class cascades from there. Alexander’s return should fix that immediately.

The outstanding safety tandem of Darnell Savage Jr. and Adrian Amos have been working their magic all year in the secondary. I have been singing their praises all year, and my outcry has been rewarded with excellent results. The gaggle of reserves and free-agent pickups at CB have done an admirable job treading water. Still, until the position group gets fully healthy, there will be a higher risk/reward percentage in every game. With the bye week looming and some returns seeming imminent, the team’s patience may pay off.

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