Aaron Rodgers is the centre of the universe in Green Bay. Despite weeks of inconsistency and theatrics, much of which could have been avoided with a trip to Walgreens, the Packers’ often-maligned, oft-overlooked, vitally understaffed defence has kept the team in the Super Bowl hunt.
When All-Pro receiver Davante Adams was ruled out for Week 8 due to Covid-19 protocol violations, the Packers’ defence forced three turnovers in a 24-21 surprise victory against the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals. When Rodgers missed Week 9 due to a positive coronavirus test, the Packers’ defence held Kansas City to 13 points in a tight loss.
Even when their offensive was at full power in early October, the Packers defeated the Washington Football Team 24-10 and the Chicago Bears 24-14. Their defence is presently ranked third in the NFL in terms of points and net yards allowed, and sixth in terms of total takeaways. Despite their illustrious reputation, their offensive ranks 19th in points and 20th in net yards.
Surprisingly, despite the absence of its two top players, the Packers’ defence is carrying the club. Za’Darius Smith, a two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher, suffered a back injury in the season opener. Jaire Alexander, the team’s starting cornerback, has been out with a shoulder injury since Week 4. The Packers aren’t anticipated to be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks or cover their opponents’ best receivers without Smith and Alexander, and their defence hasn’t been able to stop the run successfully since Vince Lombardi left town.
Green Bay defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who is in his first season in the position, gets a lot of credit for the defense’s performance. Barry took over for Mike Pettine, whose eccentric, Rex Ryan-inspired plan was frequently disorganised. Pettine routinely assigned Preston Smith, a 265-pound pass rusher, to coverage duties and occasionally pressured opposing quarterbacks with only three defenders (allowing Tom Brady plenty of time in the pocket to scheme his devilry) (typically against receivers who were 60 pounds lighter and three steps faster).
Barry, a Tony Dungy and Wade Phillips coaching descendent, keeps things simple. He loves to rush four defenders and uses blitzes sparingly. Barry usually keeps two safeties deep, but he moves them about at the snap to hide the coverage. His cautious approach aids in the elimination of both huge plays and execution mistakes. This season, opponents have completed only 23 throws of 20 yards or more against the Packers, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL, while Packers defenders have missed 49 tackles, the fifth-lowest total in the league.
Under Barry, several unheralded defenders have come up to fill the vacancies created by Smith and Alexander. Rashan Gary, a first-round choice in 2019, suddenly leads the Packers in sacks with 5.5 after two quiet seasons as a supporting player. Preston Smith, who has been mainly relieved of covering duties, is enjoying a good season, while safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are doing well in more traditional positions. In Alexander’s absence, Chandon Sullivan, who went undrafted and was snatched from the unclaimed wire in 2019, is playing well, as are Eric Stokes, a first-round choice this year, and veteran Kevin King.