After the 2019 NFC Championship loss to the 49ers, one of the top concerns in the ensuing off-season, if not thee top concern, was the Packers defensive line and overall run defense.
2020 proved to be a pretty good year for the Packers run defense, all in all. There were occasions when the line got gashed (Dalvin Cook, 163 yards, 3 rushing touchdowns) and other times when they really showed up (NFC Championship, outside of Leonard Fournette’s dazzling 20 yard touchdown run). The Packers finished the 2020 Regular season 14th in the league in total rush yards allowed and Tied for 16th in Yards Allowed Per Carry (4.5).
It’s fair to expect that a regression is in store in 2021, especially if some other players are not able to step up. First off, it’s important to point out that the Packers often played with a lead in 2020, in large part because of their All-Pro Offense. Even if the Packers are able to retain Aaron Rodgers, it is unlikely that they will be able to duplicate their level of offensive success to the extent they performed last season, which will mean increased in-game scenario’s where the games are closer and opponents are willing to stick with the run more.
Secondly, it’s fair to recognize that the Packers have a challenging schedule in 2021, most likely a harder one than they had to face last year. Outside of the usual suspects in the division, the Packers have games against the Saints (Kamara), 49ers (Week 3, who will probably be much healthier), Browns (Chubb), Chiefs, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams and Ravens. Additionally, the new 17th game in the regular season will only put more stress on tired teams, especially ones dealing with injuries.
Speaking of injuries, the Packers were fairly fortunate throughout 2020 when it came to their Top 3 Defensive Lineman. Kenny Clark battled through his own injuries but was still able to play in 13 regular season games as well as both playoff games (where he registered 2.5 sacks). Dean Lowry didn’t miss a game all year while Tyler Lancaster played in 17 out of 18 contests.
*Knocks on Wood*, hopefully the Packers Big 3 are able to remain on the field and be effective in the upcoming year but the Packers will need more production and reliability from other players. It was the right move to move on from lackluster DT Montravius Adams (signed with the Patriots in free agency) and short term 2020 rental Damon “Snacks” Harrison remains a free agent.
Specifically, the Packers will be counting on 3rd year Defensive Lineman Kingsley Keke to make a noticeable impact in 2021. Keke has the talent to be a difference maker but needs to be healthy and available to do so. The Packers also drafted TJ Slaton (5th round, Florida) in the 2021 Draft and are hopeful his size (6’4, 330) and ability can fortify the Packers interior.
Team run defense goes beyond a defensive line and includes all components, from inside-linebackers, outside linebackers setting the edge (in the Packers 3-4 or 2-4-5 scheme) and corners and safeties. However, it always starts up front, and the Packers will need more players to take a jump and produce when their number is called to do so in 2021 in order for them to remain a top team in the NFL and fulfill their potential on defense.——————
Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a Packers guy. Alex\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.