The Green Bay Packers run defense has struggled in recent seasons and that has been a big problem for the team. In 2022, the Packers defense ranked 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed an average of 5.0-yards per rush which ranked 28th. Too often, the team could not stop an opponent from running late in games and never got a chance to get the ball back and engineer a game-winning drive.
There were many reasons for this poor showing. One of the biggest is that defensive coordinator Joe Barry and head coach Matt LaFleur place more importance on stopping the passing attack than they do on slowing the ground game. That is a smart strategy in the modern NFL, but the run defense cannot be so bad that it costs the team chances to win football games.
While major changes to the defensive strategy are not expected, here are five reasons the Packers run defense could be better in 2023:
Packers Run Defense Factor Number 1: Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt Make a 2nd Year Jump
The Packers added two first-round picks from last year’s draft and as usual, selected two defensive players. Both linebacker Quay Walker and defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt had their struggles as rookies, and both are expected to improve in year two.
Walker started 16 games but struggled to read running plays, especially early in the season. He got better at it as the season progressed and he got more comfortable with the defense. He has the speed to pursue runners sideline-to-sideline. If he takes a second-year leap, he should help plug up more running plays.
Wyatt barely saw the field until later in the season when Dean Lowry was injured. During his limited early reps, he showed the ability to penetrate offensive lines and make stops on running plays.
If Walker and Wyatt improve in their second NFL season, the Packers would benefit. The defense would have one player who could run down ball carriers and another who can penetrate the offensive line and disrupt plays. Both could help improve the run defense.
Factor Number 2: T.J. Slaton
Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed have departed since the end of last season. Lowry was a very average run stopper while Reed was better at pressuring the passer than he was at playing the run.
While Wyatt will replace one of these players, third-year man T.J. Slaton is expected to take over as the other starter. The 6’4”, 330-pound Florida product is considered a run stuffer. His strength is clogging up the middle of the defensive line.
If Slaton is an upgrade against the run, the run defense should benefit.
Factor Number 3: De’Vondre Campbell
De’Vondre Campbell was an All Pro in 2021. While he played well, he didn’t quite live up to that standard last season. There were two major factors which the Packers are hoping will both improve this season.
Early in the season, Campbell was covering for the inexperienced Walker who was often out of position. If Walker improves with experience, Campbell won’t have to cover for him anymore and can concentrate on doing his own job.
Campbell also missed four games due to injury in 2022. If he stays healthy this season, he should bounce back to a level of performance closer to his career-best 2021 campaign.
Packers Run Defense Factor Number 4: The New Safeties
The Packers no longer have Adrian Amos at safety. It is still unclear who will start and what role they will play. Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford were getting most of the snaps with the top unit during OTAs and minicamp.
The Packers have also brought in new safeties like Tarvarius Moore and Jonathan Owens. Moore graded out as a solid run stopper according to PFF while Owens was second on the Houston Texans in tackles.
Overall, the coaching staff hopes the new safety room gives the team an upgrade at stopping the run this season.
Factor Number 5: Rookie Defensive Linemen
After the departure of Reed and Lowry, the Packers drafted Colby Wooden in the fourth round and Karl Brooks in the sixth. As rookies, they will likely be rotational depth players as they learn the NFL game.
The Packers hope they can provide a little more consistency along the defensive line once they get up to speed. If they can do that quickly this season, the defensive line could improve against the run.
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