As they say, a win is a win. However, when it comes to the Green Bay Packers, there is a reason for concern when talking about their last three victories. Offensively, the Packers have very much looked like a Super Bowl contender. But on defense, the Packers have struggled. They have struggled enough that it has left many to wonder if they have a championship-caliber defense. Specifically, the Green Bay Packers defensive line has underperformed in the Packers last three victories.
Green Bay Packers Defensive Line Struggling Down the Stretch
As a whole, the Packers defensive unit has performed unevenly. On the positive side, the Packers defense has been able to create pressure and force turnovers. In the past three games, against the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns, the Packers have registered eight sacks. That pressure has helped the Packers chalk up six interceptions during that span as well.
While the Packers have been able to rush the passer and force turnovers, they have struggled to contain the run. Last week, Browns running back Nick Chubb rushed for 126 yards on just 17 carries. Playing behind an offensive line that was minus their starting center and starting left tackle, Chubb finished with a 7.4 yards per carry average.
There are a lot of factors when it comes to the Packers failure to stop the run. But the biggest culprits have been the Green Bay Packers defensive line. Even with playing against a substandard offensive line (Bears), a backup quarterback (Ravens), and a depleted offensive line (Browns), the Green Bay Packers defensive line is giving up big yardage against the run.
Packers Defense Looking More Like the Mike Pettine Led Defense
Former Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine took a lot of heat for how he led the Packers defense. While Pettine’s defenses brought pressure, in most cases, they were gashed by opposing teams’ run games. When Joe Barry took over for Pettine this season, it appeared that his scheme would correct that issue.
Barry and the Packers defense had success early on this season. However, as of late, the Packers run defense has struggled. In the past three games, the Packers have given up 499 rushing yards on 74 carries, allowing three rushing touchdowns, with a 6.7 yards per carry average. The three-game struggle has dropped the Packers run defense to 18th in the NFL.
The struggle to stop the run, which starts with the Green Bay Packers defensive line, has forced Barry and the Packers to rely on creating pressure and forcing turnovers. As proven by Pettine, and before him, Dom Capers, relying on creating pressure and turnovers doesn’t always lead to victories. If Barry doesn’t make an adjustment in the Packers final two games, the Packers will once again have to rely on that style of play going into the playoffs. As Packers fans will tell you, if the defense plays as they did under Pettine and Capers, the chances of playoff success are very minimal.
Lowry Needs To Take Pressure off of Clark
When it comes to the Green Bay Packers defensive line, Kenny Clark is the leader. Not only is Clark the best interior pass rusher for the Packers, but he is their best run stopper. While Clark is a big piece for the Green Bay Packers defensive line when it comes to stopping the run, he can’t do it by himself. If the Packers are going to turn around their recent defensive run struggles, Clark is going to need some help.
One player that will need to step up his game is Dean Lowry. After struggling in 2019 and 2020, and carrying a big contract, many expected Lowry to be cut leading up to this season. But surprisingly, general manager Brian Gutekunst made the decision to bring Lowry back for his sixth season as a Packer.
Lowry’s play to start this season made it appear that Gutekunst made the right call. Lowry played similar to how he played in 2018, the season that led him to his big-money contract. However, even with posting a sack last week against the Browns, Lowry’s play has dropped off. Before last week’s sack, Lowry had been the invisible man on the Green Bay Packers defensive line.
If the Packers are going to start to have some success against the run, Lowry is going to need to play better. Except for Clark, Lowry is the only other defensive lineman who has had success. Clark needs someone along the defensive line who is able to take some pressure off of him. Lowry is being paid like that type of player, now is the time for him to perform like one.
More Snaps for the Younger Defensive Lineman
Behind Clark and Lowry, the only other Packers defensive lineman with experience is Tyler Lancaster. That right there tells you how thin and inexperienced the Green Bay Packers defensive line is.
Even with the experience, Lancaster is the least effective defensive lineman on the Packers roster. Lancaster doesn’t do anything well, which makes you wonder why the Packers keep trotting him out, week in and week out. His poor play was on full display last week against the Browns. Even with facing constant one on one blocking situations, Lowry was consistently blown off the ball. This isn’t a rare occurrence; throughout his tenure with the Packers he has failed to make plays. His play against the Browns earned him a 47.6 grade from Pro Football Focus, the lowest of the Packers defensive linemen.
With Lancaster not getting the job done, it is time to get the younger defensive linemen more snaps. TJ Slaton has been getting more snaps as of late. Similar to Lancaster, Slaton is big and can spell Clark when needed. But unlike Lancaster, Slaton has the athletic ability and the strength to play on the defensive line. Only just a rookie, Slaton has a lot of promise.
Last week, undrafted free agent Jack Heflin saw his first action as a pro. Heflin is also a big body defensive lineman and could be stout against the run. Some have compared him to Lancaster. However, the Packers have seen what Lancaster can, or in his case can’t do. Seeing what Heflin can do might be worth a shot.
Another player who will need to contribute is Kingsley Keke. Surprisingly, Keke was a surprise healthy scratch last week. No reason was given for him being inactive. If Keke is available for next week, and beyond, Barry needs to get him on the field. He is more of a pass rusher but has improved against the run.
Linebackers Need to Pitch In
It can be argued that De’Vondre Campbell is the MVP of the Packers defense this season. The late training camp signee has been more than the Packers have hoped for. He has shown what a good inside linebacker can do for a defense. The lanky linebacker has done a solid job in the run game, even with the Green Bay Packers defensive line struggling at times.
While Campbell has stood out, Krys Barnes has struggled. A lot was expected out of the former undrafted free agent this season, but he hasn’t been consistent in his play. If the Packers are going to improve their run defense, Barnes is going to need to play better. With Oren Burks on the COVID list and possibly out for the Minnesota Vikings game, Barnes will be depended on to stop Dalvin Cook.
The Packers run defense needs to get some help from their outside linebackers. Preston Smith and Rashan Gary have been exceptional pass rushers this season, but, especially Gary, have struggled to contain the run. As pointed out, Gary needs to do a better job setting the edge and stay at home on run plays. Gary has developed a habit of rushing too far upfield on running plays, leaving huge lanes in his area. It is essential that he cuts down on these mistakes.
Vikings Matchup a Good Test for Packers Run Defense
With two games left in the Packers regular season, they are still playing for the number one seed for the NFC playoffs. Along with that, the next two games will be a good test if Barry can correct the errors that have riddled the Packers run defense.
As stated earlier, the Packers will be facing the Vikings on Sunday Night Football this weekend. In Cook’s career, he has had some big games against the Packers. Facing Cook and the Vikings run game will be a very good test for the Green Bay Packers defensive line. The forecast for the game looks to be extremely cold, which means the Vikings most likely will be running the ball a lot on Sunday.
Along with facing the Vikings, the Packers will finish out the season against the Detroit Lions. The Lions offense is one of the worse. But head coach Dan Campbell loves to try to run the ball and be physical. That will also present a test for the Packers run game.
Barry has two games to correct the Packers run defense. If he doesn’t, it appears that the Packers defense will once again rely on pressure and turnovers to win games. Something that the Packers fans don’t want to see again.
Embed from Getty Images