The Green Bay Packers defense showed signs of improvement in 2021, their first season under defensive coordinator Joe Barry. The Packers defense came up big in the playoffs and did not allow the 49ers offense to score a touchdown.
The Packers finished the 2021 campaign ranked ninth in the league in yards allowed and 13th in points allowed. The run defense ranked 11th in the league while the pass defense was 10th.
Heading into this season, Barry indicated the team may play more often with two inside linebackers on the field and less with three safeties. This may be the biggest anticipated tweak to the defense heading into 2022.
Here is a look at the five biggest questions facing the Green Bay Packers defense as we finish up OTAs:
- Will the Run Defense Improve?
The Packers run defense ranked 11th in the NFL in yards allowed but they still allowed opposing teams to gain an unacceptable 4.7-yards per run in 2021. The biggest reason for the statistical improvement of the run defense last year was that the Packers usually had a lead which kept offenses from running the ball too frequently, especially later in games.
This year, Barry plans on keeping a second inside linebacker on the field more often and that should mean that opposing offenses will face fewer light boxes next season.
The defense needs to cut opposing teams’ average yard per attempt down closer to 4.0 to have a true championship caliber defense this season.
- How Quickly Can the Rookies Contribute?
The Packers surprised many fans and experts alike when they used both of their first-round picks in this year’s draft on defensive players and at positions the team has de-emphasized for a long time.
We know both Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt are talented and both played a big role in a dominant defense at Georgia. How quickly they adjust to the NFL and can contribute to the defense will be a key factor in how much the defense improves this season.
Walker can help the Packers stay out of those light boxes that hurt the running game while Wyatt can give the team talent and flexibility along the defensive line with his ability to line up in different places along the formation.
If both rookies are starting or at least making significant contributions by the end of the season, the defense has a good chance to improve.
- Who Will Be the Third Edge Rusher?
We know we have Preston Smith and Rashan Gary as the starters on the edge, but the departure of Za’Darius Smith and the retirement of Whitney Mercilus leaves the Packers without any proven depth at the position.
There are plenty of candidates on the roster right now including holdovers Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, Randy Ramsey and draft pick Kingsley Enagbare.
The Packers need at least one of the potential edge rushers left on their roster to step up and provide consistent pressure when they are rotated into the game. That can help put pressure on opposing quarterbacks while keeping Gary and Smith fresh and more effective.
As of right now, if either Smith or Gary had to miss significant time due to injuries, the pass rush would suffer a big drop off.
- Will Darnell Savage Bounce Back?
Late in the 2020 season, Savage was playing at a Pro Bowl level, making big plays both in the box and when he dropped back into coverage. He was aggressive and confident and looked like he had the potential to be one of the better safeties in the game.
But in 2021, Savage struggled to adjust to Barry’s new defense. His play fell off a bit and while he was still solid, he was less consistent and the big plays were much less frequent.
If Savage is more comfortable in Barry’s defense in year two and his level of play returns to its late 2020 form, the Packers could have the best safety duo in the league and the best secondary.
- Who Will Be the Star DB?
The star defensive back is the player who usually covers the opposing team’s slot receiver. Last year, it was Chandon Sullivan who mostly filled that role. Sullivan signed with the Vikings in free agency leaving the position wide open this season.
Barry has indicated that there are four players who may see significant time as the star. They may include Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes and Savage.
Expect all four of them to take some snaps as the star in an attempt to create favorable matchups and keep offenses guessing.
Getting solid play at that position at the star position is important to Barry’s defense and whether one player or many fill that role, the Packers need production from their star DB to have an outstanding defense.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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