The Green Bay Packers offense seems to be hitting their stride. In the Packers past two games, victories over the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, the offense has scored 54 combined points. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown for seven touchdowns and has thrown over 600 yards in that time. Star wide receiver Davante Adams has been just as impressive. In that span, he has 16 passes for 165 receiving yards with three touchdown receptions. With the playoffs right around the corner, it couldn’t be a better time for the offense to hit their stride. However, you can’t say the same about the other side of the ball. The Green Bay Packers defense needs to clean some things up before the Packers start their playoff run.
Green Bay Packers Defense Needs Some Necessary Clean Up
This season, the Green Bay Packers defense has shown some life. First-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry, after a shaky season opener, has surprised many Packers fans. Before Barry’s arrival, fans had grown accustomed to the Green Bay Packers defense disappointing them. However, this season, those fans have seen some glimpses of hope.
While the Green Bay Packers defense has improved under Barry, the past two games the defense has dealt with some issues. By no means are those issues comparable to what fans have witnessed from the special teams unit. That unit continues to play at a miserable low.
Still, if the Packers are going to be contenders to reaching, and possibly winning, the Super Bowl their defense will need to clean up some issues that have leaked out the past two games. In the final games that are coming up, Barry and the Green Bay Packers defense will need to make some adjustments to be a Super Bowl-caliber defense.
Improving on Setting the Edge
Since Barry replaced Mike Pettine as the Packers defensive coordinator, the Packers run defense has improved. Under Pettine, the Green Bay Packers defense struggled to contain opposing teams’ run offenses. But with Barry at the helm, their run defense has done a solid job containing the run game.
While the run defense has improved, in the past two games they have shown some cracks in the armor. The Bears and Ravens combined to rush for 280 yards. The leading rushers for both teams were their quarterbacks, Justin Fields, and Tyler Huntley. Because of that, it leads you to believe that the Green Bay Packers defense is failing to contain the edges.
Outside linebacker Rashan Gary has had a very strong season for the Packers. He has chalked up six and a half sacks, just a half a sack below the team leader Preston Smith. While he is bringing pressure, he is failing at setting the edge.
Throughout the season, but especially the past two games, he has been caught rushing upfield and not holding the edge. That has allowed opposing teams to hit the edge in the run game. One of the ways the Packers can improve their rush defense is by Gary setting the edge.
It will be a balancing act for outside linebackers coach Mike Smith. Smith will look to improve Gary’s ability to set the edge while making sure Gary doesn’t lose any of his pass-rushing ability. If Smith is looking to give an example on how to do both, he won’t have to go far. Preston Smith has shown he is capable of doing both. If Gary takes a look at what Smith has been doing, the correction won’t be a difficult one for Gary.
Better Play Up Front
Last week against the Ravens, the Packers were without defensive lineman Kenny Clark. Clark was placed on the COVID list leading up to the game. Clark’s absence created a huge hole in the Packers defensive front.
With Clark out, Barry inserted backup Tyler Lancaster into the starting lineup. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lancaster struggled. Since being with the Packers Lancaster has struggled. Not only was he left in many one on one situations, but in many of those plays, he found himself on his back. If the Packers are forced to continue to play Lancaster, issues not only in the run game but also in pass situations will persist. If Clark can’t go against the Cleveland Browns on Christmas day, Dean Lowry and TJ Slaton will need to step up.
Many expected Lowry to be cut this off-season for salary cap savings. But Lowry was kept and for the most part, he has played well this season. But in the past two games, he has struggled. If the Green Bay Packers defense is going to improve against the run, Lowry is going to need to play like he did earlier this season.
TJ Slaton has seen his snaps count increase in the past couple of weeks. He is a big body and even with being a rookie, he is a better option than Lancaster. The Packers also need Kingsley Keke to step up as well. Keke is a better pass rusher than a run stopper. But like with Slaton, the Packers would be better off with Keke over Lancaster.
The Packers are hoping that they can get Clark back on the field. Not only is he the Packers best defensive line run stopper, but he is also the best pass rusher on the inside.
Improvement in Coverage Against the Tight End
Leading up to the Ravens game, safety Darnell Savage has had a strong season for the Green Bay Packers defense. But against Ravens tight end Mark Andrews, Savage had arguably his worst performance as a Packer.
Andrews had a huge game against Savage, who was responsible for covering Andrews for most of the game. Andrews finished the game with 10 catches for 136 yards with two touchdown receptions. While Savage bears responsibility for most of Andrews production, Barry deserves some blame as well.
Instead of adjusting his defensive scheme right away, to either replace Savage from covering Andrews or giving him help, Barry stayed with Savage. He did make an adjustment later in the game, but it was a flawed adjustment. Barry put in a zone-type scheme, which made cornerback Kevin King responsible for Andrews in the middle of the field. Not shockingly, King struggled and at times looked lost.
Savage’s struggles might have been just a one-game thing. He has played well this season. But other teams, especially ones who might be playoff opponents to the Packers, took notice. There is no doubt that those teams who have a pass-catching tight end will try to do the same thing Andrews did last Sunday.
Barry does have options if he feels that Savage can’t right the ship. Inside linebacker DeVondre Campbell has shown he is capable of covering tight ends. Barry could also turn to Adrian Amos. The veteran safety has shown he is capable of doing a lot of things for the Packers secondary. Asking him to cover the opposing team’s top tight end wouldn’t be too farfetched.
Unlike the special teams, the Packers defensive issues seem very fixable. Barry might have struggled in the season opener, but since then, the Packers defense has improved and held their own.
The Packers still have a couple of games to make adjustments. Not only will Barry work to correct the errors, but head coach Matt LaFleur has shown that he isn’t afraid to step in and make sure the Packers defense makes the proper adjustments.
Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense have carried the Packers in recent history. But if the Packers are going to get back to the Super Bowl, they will need the defense to carry their weight. To do that, Barry and company will need to adjust and play sound defense the rest of the season.
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