The end to the 2021 season understandably left a sour taste in Packers fans’ mouths. But the one bright spot many took away from that game was the performance of the Packers defense. And many pundits expect that to become closer to the norm in Green Bay this year. The bar is certainly being set very high for this unit in 2022. And given the collection of talent on the roster, for good reason. But in order for the defense to take another step into the top tier of the NFL, there are a few things they are going to have to fix.
This was an area the Packers made the wrong kind of history in 2021. The Packers became the first team in NFL history to allow 15 TD in their first 15 red zone opportunities. Talk about the opposite of “bend but don’t break.” Now, this obviously improved as the season went along (hard for it not to). But they still finished the season ranked 23rd in the NFL in red zone TD percentage at 62.3%. With the Packers offense likely to have some expected hiccups to start the year, the team can’t afford to have a defense continually surrendering TD whenever the opponent gets inside the 20 yard line.
Against the Run
Now, part of this is philosophical. Starting under Mike Pettine and continuing with Joe Barry – the Packers defense has prioritized stopping the pass vs. stopping the run. “You can fly to Miami a lot quicker than you can walk there,” Pettine famously quipped when asked about his approach. And with Barry, the Packers used light boxes 72% of the time in 2021, 4th highest rate in the NFL.
The results were as expected. The Packers ranked 28th in defensive rush DVOA, and were 28th in terms of explosive run plays allowed. One way that Green Bay decided to address this was personnel. They spent this offseason beefing up their defensive line, and drafted a first round ILB to play with De’Vondre Campbell. So even if their philosophy doesn’t shift, the influx of talent in the front 7 should lead to improvement.
Another situational area that the Packers struggled in 2021. They ended the season allowing conversions on 42.5% of third downs (24th in NFL). However, this statistic is another that can trace back to the Packers woes against the run. The Green Bay pass defense was actually slightly above average on third downs (13th). The run defense, another story.
The Packers were 29th in the NFL on third downs against the run. This includes allowing conversions on 55% of 3rd and 3+ yards when opponents ran the ball – not just a bunch of 3rd and 1 QB sneaks. If offenses are able to continue to convert and sustain long drives, not onlly does it wear down a defense, but it also keeps the back-to-back MVP on the sidelines.
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.