The Green Bay Packers defense seems to be trending in the right direction following another win on Sunday against the Bengals. Although far from perfect, coach Matt LaFleur called the defense’s showing in Cincinnati their best performance of the season so far. This is a defense that is missing arguably their top two players in Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith, both with uncertain timelines on their possible return to play this season.
After five weeks, the numbers are much better than they have been in past seasons. The Packers defense ranks 6th in the NFL in yards allowed per game with 322.6. They are in the top half of the league in passing and rushing yards allowed per game, at 10th and 11th, respectively.
One of the keys to this early defensive success has been the acquisition of veteran inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Campbell is playing at a Pro Bowl level so far at that middle linebacker spot, which is a position where the Packers have been lacking in performance for a while now. In run-stopping and pass coverage, De’Vondre Campbell has been elite through five weeks.
Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry specializes in being a line backers coach and it seems he is elevating that position group’s play. With Campbell and Krys Barnes inside, they are making plays and flying all over the field. Per Next Gen Stats, De’Vondre Campbell, has the second lowest target EPA allowed as the nearest defender through five weeks. Target EPA equates to net expected points added allowed when the player is the nearest defender is pass coverage. Campbell is only behind Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs in this category, meaning he is essentially the best coverage LB in the NFL this season.
Another element why the defense is looking solid is the defensive front. Kenny Clark has the Packers defense second highest PFF grade. Playing at an All-Pro level, Clark has 16 pressures and 14 stops from that nose tackle position which makes it even more impressive. Kenny is one of three NFL defensive linemen with at least 14 pressures and 14 stops. Along with Clark, the other pieces along the defensive line are playing well, including Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, Rashan Gary, and Preston Smith, who is making plays off the edge.
The secondary took another blow as Kevin King, who was playing solid against the Bengals, hurt his right shoulder. It will be important to monitor that injury this week to predict King’s status against the Bears. However, the beat-up cornerback room has been helped immensely by one of the best safety duos in the league in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Savage was flying all around the field Sunday and Amos had a huge interception on Joe Burrow. With the Packers playing a lot of two-high safety looks, having those reliable, play-making guys back there makes you feel much better about the cornerback play. The cornerback room is now arguably headed by rookie Eric Stokes, who continued his stellar start to the season with another good performance Sunday. Stokes was all over rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase, but Chase made a couple of incredible plays with Stokes draped all over him.
The big problems with the defense so far has been giving up points in the red zone and at the end of halves during 2-minute drills. Green Bay has yet to make a stop in the red zone in 13 opponent possessions this season. The Packers defense is tied with the Buccaneers at 19th in the NFL in points per game allowed at 24.4. You would like that number to get lower as the season progresses, especially with a Packers offense that has not hit its full stride quite yet. Green Bay will go to Chicago next week to face the 3-2 Bears, a 12 pm CT kickoff. They will go up against rookie QB Justin Fields, leading an offense that ranks dead last in the NFL with 240 yards per game. Fields has had ups and downs in his early NFL career, but games in Chicago are never easy wins. The Packers defense needs to step up in a big way and keep trending in the right direction to keep this winning streak going.