The Packers' defense is their MVP

In Green Bay, the galaxy revolves around Aaron Rodgers. Yet after weeks of inconsistent offensive production and melodrama, much of whi...


In Green Bay, the galaxy revolves around Aaron Rodgers. Yet after weeks of inconsistent offensive production and melodrama, much of which could have been mitigated by a trip to Walgreens, the Packers’ much-maligned, often overlooked and critically understaffed defense kept the team from falling into the pursuit of the Super Bowl.

When All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams was out for Week 8 due to Covid-19 protocols, the Packers defense forced three turnovers in a surprise 24-21 win over the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals. When Rodgers missed Week 9 due to a positive coronavirus test, the Packers’ defense allowed just 13 points in a close loss to Kansas City. When the visibly rusted Rodgers returned last Sunday, the Packers defense threw a shutout for a 17-0 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Even when their offense was at full strength in early October, the Packers won by final scores of 24-10 against the Washington football team and 24-14 against the Chicago Bears. Their defense now ranks third in the NFL for points and net yards allowed and sixth in total takeaway. Despite its high reputation, their offense ranks only 19th in points and 20th in net yards.

More surprisingly, the Packers’ defense carries the team despite the absence of its two best players. Two-time Pro Bowl passer Za’Darius Smith injured his back in the first game of the season. Top cornerback Jaire Alexander has been out since Week 4 with a shoulder injury. Without Smith and Alexander, the Packers aren’t supposed to be able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks or cover their opponents’ best receivers, and their defense hasn’t been able to effectively stop the run since Vince Lombardi has left town.

Coordinator Joe Barry, in his first season as Green Bay, deserves much of the credit for the success of the defense. Barry replaced Mike Pettine, whose original Rex Ryan-inspired program was often scattered. Pettin would sometimes rush opposing quarterbacks with just three defenders (so in Tom Brady plenty of time in his pocket to plot his heck) and frequently assigned Preston Smith, a 265-pound passer, on cover duty (usually against receivers who weighed 60 pounds less and three steps faster).

Pettine’s defense forced sacks and turnovers, but gave up too much easy distance on cover shifts, broken tackles and simple assignment errors: this was the ideal pattern for critical failures against strong opponents .

Barry, a trainer descended from Tony Dungy and Wade Phillips, keeps things simple. He prefers to rush four defenders and blitz judiciously. Barry usually keeps two safeties deep, although he slips them off in the blink of an eye to conceal the cover. Its relatively conservative approach eliminates both big games and runtime errors. Opponents have completed just 23 passes over 20 yards against the Packers this season, the fourth-lowest total in the championship. NFL, while the Packers’ defensemen missed just 49 tackles, the fifth lowest total in the league.

Several unannounced defenders mobilized under Barry to fill the voids left by Smith and Alexander. Rashan Gary, a first-round draft pick in 2019, now leads the Packers with 5.5 sacks after two quiet seasons as a role player. Preston Smith, for the most part released from cover duties, is having a rebounding season, and safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are thriving in more traditional roles. Chandon Sullivan, who was undrafted and ripped off the suspension wire in 2019, is playing well in Alexander’s absence, as are Eric Stokes, a first-round pick this year, and veteran Kevin King.

Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who solidified a position that was a sore spot for years, has the most unlikely origin story of all for an All-Pro-caliber defenseman: he played several seasons for the Falcons. from Atlanta.

The Packers are forced to rely on youngsters and free consignment agents for defense because of the nature of their payroll. Rodgers’ compensation takes about 15 percent of the team’s salary cap space. Salaries for Adams, left tackle David Bakhtiari (who has been injured for much of the season) and running back Aaron Jones take up around 18 percent or so.

There is nothing unusual about a competitor spending most of his money on a franchise quarterback and his coterie – both Smiths also play on top notch contracts – but the Packers are not. not equipped to splurge for off-season reinforcements or to sue Von Miller-types at the trade deadline. The Packers front office, a target of Rodgers’ wrath long before its beef with the scientific community, deserves credit for filling the bottom of the depth board with affordable contributors and ready-to-play rookies.

Alexander and Za’Darius Smith could return for the playoffs, and it won’t be too soon. The Packers ‘defense has a long-standing reputation for playing just well enough to complement Rodgers’ heroism during the regular season, then crashing dramatically into a playoff loss that leaves their quarterback muttering his discontent all over. throughout the off season. If it happens again this year, it will almost certainly be the last time. Barry will need all the help he can get to keep history from repeating itself.

The success of the anonymous Packers’ defense went largely unnoticed heading into Sunday’s shutout, thanks in large part to Rodgers. All of the Packers stories ultimately become Rodgers stories, and this one is no exception. If the Packers finally reach the Super Bowl after 10 seasons as frustrated finalists, it will be in large part because of this mid-season stretch where their defense overcame injuries, avoided mistakes and saved their superstar.

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