Green Bay Packers

Savage Is Playing His Way Into Green Bay's Future

Photo Credit: Wm. Glasheen via USA TODAY Sports

Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia uttered a familiar statement following Sunday’s Wild Card Weekend victory, summarizing the Green Bay Packers’ absolute domination over their 2-seeded opponent.

“How about them Cowboys?”

Jordan Love and the offense obliterated the Dallas Cowboys’ formidable defense, and they received assistance from the defense and special teams playing complementary football.

It’s hard to call a play in the first half of the game a dagger, but Darnell Savage‘s 64-yard pick-six might have been the turning point for the Packers. That play stalled Dallas’ momentum and turned a game they were merely losing into an abyssal uphill climb.

It’s no coincidence that Green Bay’s defense has played better since a healthy Savage re-entered the lineup. Joe Barry is setting up Savage for success by using his best skills and putting him in a position to succeed. Between his more consistent play, improved tackling, and importance in defensive communication, Savage is well on his way to earning a spot on next year’s roster.

Inconsistency has defined Savage’s time in Green Bay. After a promising rookie season in 2019, Savage looked like one of the up-and-coming safeties in the league a year later. He and Adrian Amos looked like a top safety duo. Savage finished that season with a career-high four interceptions, 75 total tackles, two quarterback hits, and a 75.3 PFF grade.

But following the 2020 season, Green Bay moved on from Mike Pettine. Joe Barry didn’t always maximize Savage’s strengths. He used Savage closer to the line of scrimmage more often and let him play as a “robber.” Additionally, Savage got worse at tackling.

In 2023, Savage also faced injuries that sidelined him in November and a chunk of games in mid-December. Green Bay’s defense has had a bizarre quality of shutting down powerful offenses and allowing middling ones to toast them for most of the season.

However, Green Bay’s defense solidified in the final stretch of must-win games, largely due to the stability of having Savage healthy and back in the lineup. Two of the defense’s biggest problems were communication and players out of position. Savage’s return cleared up the former, while Barry adjusted the latter, including playing Savage in a role reminiscent of his previous role under Pettine.

Savage’s interception and touchdown allowed the Packers to snowball in their victory over the Cowboys. A beautiful read of Dak Prescott allowed Savage to get in the right spot and take the ball 64 yards to the house untouched. It was Savage’s first interception since late last season, the fourth-longest pick-six in Packers playoff history.

Savage’s teammates teased him about not having an end zone celebration, but Savage was completely focused on the game. “They can give me all the crap that they want to, but they were thinking the same thing I was thinking – stay locked in,” Savage said after the game. “Because anything could happen in these games.”

The Packers exercised Savage’s fifth-year option this season. They also didn’t significantly improve their safety room in the offseason, arguably their position group with the most uncertainty. That offered Savage a prime opportunity to show he could take a leap and earn a long-term spot.

Ending the season strong is a good way to earn that spot. Savage has had his highest-graded PFF score since 2020, 66.3, and was their highest-graded defender in their biggest game of the year.

Green Bay could have a new defensive coordinator next season, but nothing is certain. It’s difficult to know how they’ll approach player acquisition until they make that decision. But the Packers need to invest in the safety position, and early reports suggest this isn’t a deep draft class.

Bringing back Savage on a one- or two-year prove-it deal makes a lot of sense. The Packers need a veteran in the room, and the coaching staff has regularly praised his communication ability. “I would say that’s one of his strengths,” LaFleur said after Sunday’s victory. “his ability to communicate.”

The Packers are still paying the cap price for the last few years of the Aaron Rodgers era. Therefore, a short-term deal would allow Savage to build on a strong end to the 2023 season and earn a longer, lucrative deal when the team has more money in 2025.

Green Bay has a tough test in the divisional round against Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered San Francisco 49ers offense, and they’ll need their top defenders to step up. Regardless of how that game ends, Savage’s improved play and importance to the defense to end the season deserves attention. He’s earned a prove-it chance in 2024.

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Photo Credit: Wm. Glasheen via USA TODAY Sports

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