Positive COVID tests have bombarded NFL rosters in the last week to the point that some games were shifted around the schedule. The Green Bay Packers didn’t have a full-on sweep of positive tests, but their quality of play was affected. The star defensive tackle for the Packers, Kenny Clark, missed the game after ending up on the COVID/Reserve list.
The Baltimore Ravens showed just how valuable he is to Green Bay’s defense.
Amidst all the chaos of a near-collapse for the Packers, one constant remained for the Ravens’ offense throughout — the ability to run it up the middle. Latavius Murray isn’t going to blow anyone away with his speed. He’s more of a bowling ball type of running back. Against Green Bay, he averaged 6.9 yards per carry as lanes were paved right up the gut of the Green Bay defense.
Tyler Huntley filled in for the injured Lamar Jackson and found similar success. Huntley is extremely shifty, and the Packers struggled to get a push up the middle with their defensive line. Green Bay flushed Huntley out of the pocket at times, but the Packers’ contain had started to break down in most instances. The absence of Clark being a menace all season long to open up opportunities for the edge rushers was noticeable.
Baltimore wasn’t the first time Green Bay faced a mobile quarterback this year. They could contain and more than neutralize Kyler Murray earlier in the season. They did the same to Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. The overriding difference in those games was Clark being on the field.
In a season where Green Bay has piled up injuries, Clark’s absence for only one game was more than noticeable and proved just how valuable he is to the Packers’ defense. Thankfully, he should be back in short order.
Assuming Clark doesn’t have lingering effects, he should be back Christmas Day when the Packers welcome the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore is a strong-running football team that’s usually spearheaded by Jackson. It won’t get easier facing the Browns, who have Nick Chubb constantly eating up yards every week — having Clark back will be of great importance.
How good Clark is can be best highlighted by who filled the gaps while he was out. Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster, along with Kingsley Keke and T.J. Slaton, all do things well in their own right. They aren’t castoffs that the Packers roll their eyes when they are in the game. And they weren’t necessarily bad against Baltimore by any stretch. They just can’t replicate Clark’s ability to dominate an offensive line.
When people talk about Green Bay’s defense, they inevitably mention Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander. The incredible play of Rasul Douglas and De’Vondre Campbell has been highlighted. All the while, Clark has gone out and dominated with a lunch-pail mentality even when facing double teams or getting extra attention from the opposing offense. It’s something Green Bay has tried to solve by finding him a sidekick.
Rashan Gary has Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith as tag team partners. Aaron Jones has A.J. Dillon at running back, and Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos are quite the duo in the secondary. For Clark, it’s been a committee working alongside him in the middle with the likes of Lowry, Slayton, Keke, and Lancaster. Clark has shown up and shown out regardless of who’s next to him.
He doesn’t play the most glamorous position, and often his presence is felt in areas that don’t pop up in the box score. Baltimore had to be licking their chops, knowing their strengths, and that Clark was out for the Packers on Sunday. The Ravens deserve a tip of the cap for keeping it simple and just plowing the ball right up the middle with Murray and Huntley. Other teams will take note of this weakness if Clark is to miss any more time this year. Green Bay will hope that’s not the case.
Kenny Clark has earned the right to have his name among the best of the best at his position. His value was never more evident than in the game he missed.