Can The Packers’ Run Defense Be Fixed?

The Packers’ run defense was about as bad as it has been over the past few decades last weekend. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it was in various playoff games against the 49ers where Colin Kaepernick or Raheem Mostert sprinting down the field will be burned into my brain forever, but those games are the only ones I can remember that were worse.

The Saints used the run to control the game. They dominated the Packers in time of possession. Their o-line blew the Packers’ d-line off the ball almost every play. Jameis Winston became the first QB in history to have five pass touchdowns and under 150 passing yards. So how can it be fixed?

Bring In New Players

This might be the easiest and hardest solution. It would be easy to sign someone like Damon Harrison or trade for someone like Jonathan Hankins. Hell do both, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The problem is the cost. The Packers have somewhere around $8mm in cap space right now and they’re something like $8 gajillion over the salary cap ceiling that was set for next year.

If the team decides it is really all-in this year. If it’s really super bowl or bust in Aaron Rodgers’ last season with the Packers. Then maybe it would be worth it to mortgage the future even more. Spend picks and spend future cap to fix the run defense.

Additionally, as many pointed out on Twitter, unless the Packers’ existing players can play better, brining in new guys might be the only solution. Rejiggering the scheme won’t be enough if d-linemen are blown off the ball on almost every play.

Use Existing Players Differently

While it may not be enough, there are certainly ways to use the team’s existing players better. It starts with using them to their strengths.

Players like Za’Darius Smith and Kingsley Keke are great interior pass rushers, but the Saints took advantage of them when they were lined up inside. They should only be on the interior on obvious passing downs or with protection.

It would likely also help if Jack Heflin was active. Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster have been meh for several years at this point. All offseason, players and coaches talked about how they’d be in a better position to succeed and then they gave up 38 points to a team with no wide receivers anyone had ever heard of except for the one who is a lacrosse player.

It’s time for some new blood to get a chance. Make Heflin active. Use TJ Slaton more. Activate Willington Previlon for a game. Do anything but the same old crap that hasn’t worked for three years.     

Use Different Formations

There have been a ton of think pieces written about the Brandon Staley defense that Matt LaFleur thought he was getting when he hired Joe Barry. Each one talks about the gap-and-a-half technique used by the defensive line to contain the run even in a light box.

The defensive line lines up in a tite front. Meaning one guy on the center and two guys in between each tackle/guard (in a 4-technique). This clogs up the middle of the line and forces runs to the outside where safeties in a cover-2 shell can quickly come downhill and make the play.

The Packers shifted to a tite front a few times against the Saints. But most of the time that I saw it, they would shift the edge to 4-technique and bring DeVondre Campbell down to edge.

When the Rams used their tite front they had a 300+ pound defensive end (or a hall of famer with Aaron Donald) controlling that gap and a true edge rusher on the edge. Using an edge rusher inside and a 230 pound inside linebacker on the edge creates two positions that are easy to run on.

I don’t have a problem with running a tite front this way if the other team is passing well and the defense shifts into it because of something the offense does. But when you’re getting your ass kicked against the run, it isn’t going to work. Get true defensive linemen in there to clog up the middle and a force player who can set the edge.

Don’t Overreact

It’s fun to write and read about grand changes the team can make to fix its defense, but in reality, it’s only one week. There’s a new defensive coordinator and scheme and most of the defensive players who played last weekend didn’t play a single snap in the pre-season.

I would guess this is the mostly likely course the Packers’ coaching staff will take. Keep coaching the existing players up and let the scheme work.

That said, we know that Gutekunst and co weren’t satisfied with the defensive line last year. They added a veteran mid-season and a nose tackle in the draft. If the defense doesn’t get better, expect them to make some moves.

Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.

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