Dictating Defenses Dominate. The Packers defense did in 2019 and finished in the top 10 in scoring defense for the first time since 2010. Za’Darius and Preston Smith wreaked havoc on QBs, and the secondary full of (what seemed like) rising stars forced the third most interceptions (17).
Flash forward to 2020, despite the 4-1 record, the Packers have tons to improve upon on the defensive side of the ball.
Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius have been the only bright spots for the defense in 2020. Jaire has made the transition to stardom by locking up some of the top names in the NFL — Adam Thielen, Mike Evans, Calvin Ridley. Za’Darius was asked to do a lot in the absence of Kenny Clark, but he has still racked up five sacks in five games. While these two are certainly playing well, these are the type of performances Packer fans have grown accustomed to from Jaire and Z.
UDFA Krys Barnes may be the only Packer defender outperforming fans’ expectations in 2020 — mainly because a majority of fans had no idea who he was. Barnes has turned heads with his ‘hit first, ask questions later’ mindset. He reads the play, makes his decision and attacks downfield — a rarity for rookie MLBs. He has been the only defense player who has played the game on his terms in 2020.
Aside from those three, the production and effort starts to drop off. Promising young talent like Keke Kingsley, Chandon Sullivan and Rashan Gary have shown flashes but not enough consistency. These three were expected to make a giant leap forward in 2020 but have only mustered baby steps so far.
The real concern lies with underperformers Preston Smith and Adrian Amos. These two made a huge splash as first year players for the Packers in 2019 and have shown zero flashes in 2020. While this is becoming increasingly worrisome, they are too talented not to bounce back.
With Kenny Clark gone for a majority of the season, and the Packers still picking up big wins on the back of the offense, the level of concern for the defense was mitigated. After a horrendous loss — although not entirely on the defense — the Packers’ defensive issues have become quite apparent.
These guys have proven to be an above-average group in the NFL, so I do not believe the issue is with the talent. I believe the issue is with the mindset and a lot of that can be traced back to DC Mike Pettine. With the Packers leading for a majority of the first four games Pettine elected to play conservatively. This strategy has now influenced the effort on the field. Pettine needs to get the defense engaged and dictating again by taking a page out of Lafleur’s playbook and going all-gas no f***ing break.
Deshaun Watson will make quick work of a lethargic and conservative defense. If the Packers defense can get back to dictating the terms on the field, they have a chance to get the D-Train back on track.——————
Kirien is a big fan of the Packers, Beer, and Battlestar Galactica. You can follow him on twitter at @KirienSprecher.