The Packers defense was already significantly short-handed coming into Sunday. Still without stars Jaire Alexander and Za’darius Smith and without Kevin King, they then lost Preston Smith and Darnell Savage. Nonetheless, the Packers defense was able to create timely pressure and limit big plays en route to their 5th straight victory. Now, the offenses GB has faced hasn’t exactly been a murderer’s row – Chicago ranks 26th by DVOA and the Bengals 19th. But with the parity in the NFL you can never apologize for doing your job.
The overall philosophy for the Packers defense remains almost the same under Joe Barry as it was with Mike Pettine. Limit big plays, force offenses to string together long drives and counting on your defense to make a play or an offensive mistake. Through 6 weeks, the Packers have allowed the 4th fewest explosive pass plays in the league. It’s encouraging for the Packers that this trend continued sans Jaire Alexander and Kevin King on Sunday. After replacing Isaac Yiadom who had a forgettable opening drive, Rasul Douglas played tight coverage. He was credited with surrendering 3 catches on 5 targets for 32 yards, and only 2 yards after the catch.
The same could be said for Eric Stokes on the opposite boundary. He continued his impressive rookie campaign, and was credited with allowing 3 catches for 22 yards, and only 1 yard after the catch. As good as the Packers have been at limiting long drives (tied for 4th best number of red-zone opportunities allowed) their ineptitude inside the 20 has been their Achilles heel. The Bears scored 2 TDs on 2 red-zone trips, bringing the Packers defense to a perfect 15/15 for allowing red-zone TD this season.
Possibly the biggest improvement for the Packers defense this season has been the revelation at the inside linebacker position. De’Vondre Campbell has been equally as adept in the run game as in coverage, and is currently PFF’s #1 ranked ILB. He has also provided the sort of impact plays that the Packers have lacked at that position for so long. His interception of Joe Burrow in overtime is just one example of that.
The health of Kenny Clark has also been a huge boon to this unit. After dealing with nagging injuries a season ago, Clark has been a game wrecker along the interior. Look no further than his two sacks on the final drive Sunday for the Bears to see the type of disruption he is able to provide. With Za’Darius and Jaire both still likely out for extended periods, there is no other player more important to this defense than Clark.
Moving forward, this group will really begin to be tested. After Washington this week, the Packers will face undefeated Arizona and then Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in back-to-back weeks If they can continue to make strides creating pressure on the quarterback, and couple that with even marginal improvement in their situational defense i.e. the red-zone, the Packers will have a chance in every contest they are in. The individual talent is there, and Joe Barry has started to come into his own mixing fronts and limiting shot plays downfield. And if Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith can make a return at some point – this group has a chance to legitimately be a top-10 unit in the league.——————
Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.