This is the next in a series of articles providing an in-depth analysis of each position group on the Green Bay Packers. Today we will analyze the defensive backs. For our look at the quarterbacks, click here, click here for running backs, here for the defensive line, here for inside linebackers, here for tight ends, here for edge rushers and here for offensive line.
The grades will be for each unit as a whole but we will provide analysis of each player, their strengths and weaknesses and a quick analysis of where they stand heading into the offseason.
The Packers secondary struggled for most of the season as they tried to play Joe Barry’s soft zone system which was not ideal for the skill set of the team’s players. Late in the season, the team pressed receivers more and allowed less of a cushion which improved the play of the secondary.
The Packers ranked sixth in the league by allowing 197 yards per game through the air, although those numbers were somewhat deceptive as the team allowed too many first downs on third and long by playing the soft zone. The team’s poor run defense also hurt the secondary since the defense could not exclusively try to play the pass when they were allowing so many yards on the ground.
Here are the grades for the Packers secondary in 2022. The marks are based on a combination of expectations and performance.
Jaire Alexander got off to a slow start to the season but picked up his game later in the second half and earned his second trip to the Pro Bowl. He set a new career high with five interceptions, matching his total for the first four years of his NFL career.
The system Barry was playing early in the season did not maximize Alexander’s speed and often failed to match the Packers best cover corner against the opposing team’s best receivers.
Opposing quarterbacks completed 59.8 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Alexander, the highest number since his rookie season but his five interceptions lowered their quarterback rating to 63.7.
Rasul Douglas also struggled early with Barry’s system but finished the campaign with four interceptions, 85 total tackles and one sack. Douglas makes up for his lack of elite speed with technique and extensive film preparation. He was not well suited to slot duty but his play improved when he was moved back on the perimeter after injuries hit the secondary.
The injury in question was Eric Stokes. The former first round pick slumped badly in his sophomore season. He played the first nine games but opposing quarterbacks completed 80 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by former Georgia star and had a quarterback rating of 123.5. He did not intercept any passes this season.
Stokes struggled tracking balls in the air and often failed to turn around to play the ball properly. He will have to rebuild his confidence in 2023 and prove that his strong rookie season was no fluke.
Starting safety Adrian Amos had his worst season since joining the Packers in 2019. He started all 17 games and had one interception while making 102 tackles, one sack and seven tackles for loss and one fumble recovery.
Like the rest of the Packers secondary, Amos had issues early in the season deciding when to pass a receiver off to a teammate when the team was in zone coverage. Opponents completed 70 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Amos according to pro-football-refererence.com and had a quarterback rating of 107.7.
The Penn State alum does provide leadership and experience in the secondary but is schedule to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and may not be back with the Packers. GM Brian Gutekunst needs to determine if this was just a down season for Amos or if he is now in decline at the age of 30.
Darnell Savage started the season as the team’s other safety. He struggled badly early in the season and some of his attempts at tackling were downright embarrassing. He seemed confused in zone coverage and was getting beaten regularly.
Savage was benched later in the season and when he returned as a slot corner, his play improved. He started the final two games of the season due to injuries and played better.
Savage made 58 total tackles including two tackles for loss and had one interception which he returned 75 yards for a touchdown.
The Packers already picked up Savage’s fifth-year option so he will be back in Green Bay next year. Getting him back on track and closer to his late 2020 level of play will go a long way towards solidifying the secondary.
Rudy Ford was signed mostly for his special teams prowess but ended up starting six games after Savage’s struggles. He made three interceptions and 44 total tackles, forced one fumble and recovered another.
Ford’s tackling was significantly better than Savage’s but opposing quarterbacks still had a 65 percent completion rate and a 106.7 quarterback rating when throwing to receivers covered by Ford.
Ford is an unrestricted free agent who the Packers would welcome back if the price is right.
We will not discuss Keisean Nixon’s performance as a return specialist in this article but only look at how he did on defense. The former Raider made 23 total tackles including one for loss and intercepted one pass and forced a fumble in his first season in Green Bay.
Opposing quarterbacks completed 69 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Nixon and had a quarterback rating of 85.7.
Nixon has yet to prove he should be a starter as a cornerback but he could be a solid nickel or dime player and add depth while returning kicks. Nixon is an unrestricted free agent and the Packers will need to re-sign him to bring him back.
Dallin Leavitt did not take a snap on defense all season but was a key contributor on special teams.
Injuries slowed the progress of second-year man Shemar Jean-Charles. The former Appalachian State star was limited to just six games this season and played only three snaps on defense and 72 snaps on special teams.
Jean-Charles will be back in training camp to fight for a roster spot in 2023 and needs to stay healthy and show he is ready to contribute more on defense to establish a place for himself on this roster.
Innis Gaines played seven games and started one. He played 44 snaps on defense and 99 on special teams. The TCU alum hopes to continue to his development and possibly fight for a job at safety next season which is a position of need.
Rookie Tariq Carpenter was drafted primarily for his play on special teams and that’s where he saw most of his action. The Georgia Tech alum played 16 snaps on defense over the 14 games he played with 13 of them coming in mop up duty in the blowout win over the Vikings. He was a key contributor on kick and punt coverage teams.
Kiondre Thomas spent the season on the practice squad and signed a futures contract to return in 2023.
Corey Ballentine played eight games this season and made five total tackles while forcing one fumble. He played only 17 snaps on defense while seeing action mostly on special teams.
Benji Franklin signed a futures contract with the Packers and will be fighting for a roster spot next year as will James Wiggins who has spent time with the Cardinals and Chiefs.
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