Week 1 is a wonky time in the NFL that creates strange narratives and odd statistical averages. By Week 2, we get a better idea of what teams actually look like and which storylines are valid.
The Green Bay Packers were bad in Week 1 but looked more like the team we anticipated in Week 2. Joe Barry’s loaded defense was expected to look league-best in Week 1, which certainly didn’t happen. Justin Jefferson carved through the Packers like a knife through a particularly soft cheese.
The defense still showed some weaknesses against the run, finishing tackles poorly in Week 1, which is not something Packers fans are used to seeing. However, Barry’s group looked much more dynamic against the Chicago Bears. Justin Fields just might be bad, but the defense looked much more lively in the Lambeau lights, playing fast, high-energy football.
The star players we expected to ball out this season did so on Sunday night, and we also saw some brilliant flashes from rookie Quay Walker. But Preston Smith stood out multiple times and is off to an excellent season. Smith is often an unsung hero of this defense, making the most of his extension in Green Bay.
Brian Gutekunst hit well with his 2019 free-agent class. Linebackers Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner played significant roles for Green Bay through multiple seasons. But, eventually, money talks and changes need to be made. Before the 2021 season, it seemed inevitable that the Packers would break up the Smith Bros.
Preston was coming off of a rocky 2020. Za’Darius was a fan favorite and anchor of the defense, but he would be expensive to keep around — especially with a Rashan Gary extension looming.
However, things took a strange turn in 2021. Among a back injury, what we’ll call “interpersonal differences” in the locker room, and the ascension of Rashan Gary, Za’Darius Smith found himself out of the limelight in Green Bay, and they released him following the season. Meanwhile, Preston Smith bounced back, proved himself a reliable partner for Gary, and earned a contract extension.
Preston Smith didn’t have an amazing game against Minnesota, but no one really did. Still, he had three tackles and two QB hits against Kirk Cousins. The Vikings’ QB was as slippery as ever, managing to get the ball out despite the pressure coming his way.
Fields didn’t have the same level of success, and Preston Smith was one of the defensive stars of the night. Preston Smith did a bit of everything against the Bears, leading the team in pressures (six), tackles (seven), sacks (two), and QB hits (three).
On a night where most of Green Bay’s defenders couldn’t tackle, Preston Smith came one shy of matching his single-game career high of eight. He showed his smarts on his sacks, not falling for tricks from the offensive linemen and coming up with big plays when needed. Overall, the defense was terrible against the run. But Smith was one of the few reliable spots, setting the edge well. He was a vital cog in the pass-rush machine, and he and Gary terrorized the Bears.
Preston Smith knew Week 1 wasn’t the defense’s identity and personally responded with an excellent night. “We always respond (to) adversity, and we know that we’ve just got to play sound football and not allow those mistakes to happen again,”he said following Sunday’s game.
“We’re a relentless defense, make big plays, we don’t allow big plays made on us. There were some mistakes made tonight; some big plays made – a credit to the offense of Chicago. But we know if we go out there and we play sound football, it can be a great year for us on defense.”
Despite being blessed with a secondary full of truly excellent players, the Green Bay defense is still at its best when the pass rush can disrupt enemy signal callers. With little proven depth beyond the starters, Gary and Preston Smith are cornerstones of the defense. That’s a lot of pressure on the two primary edge rushers, but the duo proved up to the task Sunday night.
Kenny Clark lauded the duo’s impact, saying, “They wreaked havoc all game. They had plenty of TFLs. Knocking guys back and making the running back bubble, credit to those guys. Those guys really balled out today.”
Eyes will be focused on Gary, a project who really came into his own last season and is emerging as a top defender in the league. But the humble Preston Smith is off to a fantastic start in assisting Gary, and we’ve seen him comfortably play the EDGE2 role in the past with Za’Darius Smith. In a loaded defense, we may not hear his name praised every week, but make no mistake: The reliable Preston Smith is an absolutely crucial ingredient to this defensive soup.