We’re barely approaching week one and the Green Bay Packers are beginning to receive early commendation for having one of the best defenses in the league… on paper. With issues late in the season in 2021 it’s fair to ask if this defense is truly going to live up to the hype. More importantly, it’s fair to ask if they can slow down the offensive powerhouse that resides one state to the west.
The Vikings have been one of the most worthy rivals for the Packers over the last 20 or so years. It’s always tough to play in Minnesota and ever since they’ve played in their new and improved — and much louder — stadium, it has only become more difficult.
Allow me to quickly throw in a disclaimer, I won’t be diving into the coaching side of things for a few reasons. The main reason being that the Vikings have a new coaching staff in place, and I just don’t think it’s fair to try to predict what their offensive strategy will look like or how Joe Barry will look to combat it. I’ll leave it by paraphrasing a sentiment that De’Vondre Campbell shared, Vikings new HC Kevin O’Connell will have a somewhat similar scheme to Green Bay’s offense, but that almost does not matter. The Vikings will play to the strengths of their personnel and the defense will have to assess and respond in real time.
What are the Weaknesses of the Packers Defense?
Let’s start by establishing one thing, Green Bay has guys like Rashan Gary and Preston Smith bending around the edge, Kenny Clark smashing through interior lines, and Pro Bowl caliber linebackers and defensive backs alike flying around the back seven spots. There isn’t a glaring hole in the roster here, or some huge issue on the starting defense, so what’s the issue?
Issues With Tackling
I’ll rip the bandage off, not many players on this defense are particularly physical, and the Packers miss a lot of tackles. This is something that is easy to forget when you’re hyped up entering a season. You hear about guys flying around as training camp progresses, Jaire Alexander breaking up passes and locking down wideouts, protections shifting over to Rashan Gary for an entire practice, and so on. One thing that’s not happening in training camp however, is tackling.
I’m not downplaying the few guys that can wrap up and get physical, nor am I downplaying the incredibly quick and talented athletes who are less consistent tacklers. It just seems like GM Brian Gutekunst has favored relative athletic score and speed when adding to the back seven of his defenses, and yes, even with the inside linebackers.
The tackling isn’t as big of an issue as some will make it out to be, but there’s a few reasons they started giving up so many points per game at the end of last season, so Jaire Alexanders absence wasn’t the only one. Coaches often talk about how tackling is something these players have been doing for years, they don’t need to practice it, and it’ll be natural once the opening kickoff is underway. I disagree, but I also think that since it would net negative results to go around tackling your starting offense in practice there’s not much else you can do about this.
Going up against a physical running back like Dalvin Cook in week one can be a scary thought, especially for a team that doesn’t have as many sound tacklers as you would like.
This has been harped on all offseason — almost as much as the injuries along the Packers offensive line — so I won’t spend much time here aside from simply identifying the issue. The Green Bay Packers do not have good backups on defense. This team may very well have one of the most talented starting defenses in the NFL, but as soon as any rotating or injuries start occuring, the holes become apparent.
If the Packers can get a few guys along the defensive line, or defensive backs like Shemar Jean-Charles and Dallin Leavitt to take a few steps forward into their professional careers, they may have somewhat viable backups. For now though, with names like Rudy Ford and Keisean Nixon in the secondary’s bullpen, there will be concern when starters come off of the field for any reason.
What are the Strengths of the Packers Defense?
Well, I’ve sort of sprinkled these thoughts in throughout my criticisms, but I’ll more clearly restate them here. The Packers have an absolutely monstrous and athletic group of starters on defense, and of course the few weaknesses on the unit won’t completely ruin that.
Rashan Gary will look to have the best year of his career as he’s continued to do every year since he was drafted in 2019. You cannot overstate how important pass rushers are, and after being second in the NFL in pressures last season, Gary is poised to be an absolute unit coming off of the edge.
It also cannot be overstated how important defensive line play is, and the Vikings are in for an interesting battle putting third rounder Ed Ingram and infamous turnstile Garrett Bradbury up against a game wrecker like Kenny Clark.
Last season when Eric Stokes got torched by Justin Jefferson, it was partially for lack of Jaire Alexander being on the football field that day. This year, the Packers will have their unrivaled cast of cornerbacks back on the field, including their top guy. After an otherwise completely stellar year for Stokes, a guy who shouldn’t yet have been facing number one receivers, he’ll be even more dialed in to the defense in year two. These corners match up as well as any group in the NFL when it comes to facing Minnesota’s wide receivers.
Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was a first-team All-Pro football player last year, in case anyone forgot. His size and speed in coverage are deadly, and he’s one of the most disciplined players, along with Adrian Amos, in the secondary. We know that 1v1 football doesn’t really exist, but Dalvin Cook vs De’Vondre Campbell will be an interesting matchup.
After mentioning he back end of Green Bay’s defense aren’t slouches. Darnell Savage acts as a versatile piece who despite his struggle to keep up in some coverages, lives comfortably in others, and has the instincts you want a safety to have whether he’s playing the nickel or on the back end. Adrian Amos on the other hand, is the anchor of the secondary. He is the epitome of a textbook coverage safety. He plays with sound technique, excellent athleticism, and is almost never out of place. Last year wasn’t one of the best of his career, but there’s no reason to doubt his abilities and instincts.
There have been heavy investments on defense going into the 2022 season. To start, Green Bay brought in veteran DL Jarran Reed who has been playing phenomenally from what we can tell out of training camp practices. The Packers also invested both of their 2022 first round picks into the defense, acquiring Quay Walker with the 22nd pick of round one, and Devonte Wyatt with the 28th.
Can Green Bay’s Defense Hold Up?
It’s fair to say that the defense certainly can hold their own. It is also fair to wonder if they will have a shaky day and tackle poorly, and all that needs to happen in that case is a few missed tackles or one blown coverage that turns the tide.
If a prediction was necessary I would say the Packers can surely hold the Vikings to less than 24 points if there are no fatal mistakes. It’s reasonable to think this game won’t be incredibly high scoring, but the offenses are both still good enough that I wouldn’t predict a low scoring affair either. I’ll predict the Packers have a tough day and take a 17-21 loss in Minnesota, and they’ll have to get ready to bounce back like they did after week one last season.——————
Zack is a college student and cheesehead from California. When he’s not in class or writing, you can find him talking about the Packers on Twitter at @Zack_Upchurch.