Last year Packers fans had a crisis of confidence about the defense. At the time, I wrote, “The Packers defense is bad and it’s a coaching problem…It’s obvious that the defense has talent, but it’s not being put to good use.” After a week 1 game in which Justin Jefferson ran wild, Dalvin Cook got what he wanted, and Kirk Cousins outplayed Aaron Rodgers, that statement may be even more true now.
Let’s look at the optimistic and pessimistic cases for the Packers’ defense this season.
We’ll start with the pessimistic points because it is only one game.
It’s the same s**t
Last year the problem was stale zone coverages, no creative pressures, defensive backs playing far off the ball, and a leaky run defense. Each of those problems was still present in the week 1 game.
When Joe Barry was hired, Washington and Detroit fans had the same review of him. They said he was a good guy but stuck to conservative zone coverage while only rushing 4 too often. That has certainly been an issue in Green Bay.
There wasn’t a single blitz and almost every pressure came from Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, or Kenny Clark. That’s fine when they’re on the field, but the coaching staff often employs whole line changes where none of the big three are on the field.
Fans understandably get annoyed when Giannis, Jrue Holliday, and Khris Middleton are all off the court together and it’s the same concept for the Packers’ defensive line. Obviously, those players need rest, but if they all get it at once, the defense is vulnerable.
The reason many thought the Packers’ defense would be elite this season was because of the players. But what if Darnell Savage has put half of one season of good play and 2.5 of bad play on film and is just bad? What if Eric Stokes flashes because he’s fast, but he’s so nervous about getting turned around that he has to line up 10 yards off the ball? What if Adrian Amos has lost a step? What if Devonte Wyatt is going to get barely double-digit snaps?
All of those points could be correct and when you match average players with a stale scheme you get a meh defense. That’s what the Packers were last year and that’s what they were last week.
Let’s try to end this on a good note.
It is only one game
While the team had an average defense at best last year, it was at least average over the course of the season and Jaire Alexander and Quay Walker are certainly plus additions. It’s unlikely every game will be as frustrating as the last one. There will likely be more frustrating games, but also progress and some games where the defense performs well.
And remember, last year the offense was terrible in week 1 and had its fits and starts over the season before ending ranked 2nd in DVOA.
There are still levers to pull
While we haven’t seen much evidence that the defensive coaching staff is willing to get creative, there are still some obvious things that could be done to improve the defense.
Blitz at least once and use simulated and creeper pressures to get pressure when the starters aren’t on the field.
Put Darnell Savage in the slot and Rasul Douglas as a deep safety—Douglas have shown a knack for reading route combinations and Savage is better the closer to the ball he plays.
Use Quay Walker as a pass rusher. Walker has the size and quickness to be a poor man’s Micah Parsons and I’d much rather see him in the slot than Preston Smith.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.