The Green Bay Packers run defense has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in recent years. After a strong performance in Week 1 in Chicago, Joe Barry’s group reverted to form against the Falcons in Week 2 and were a major reason the team blew a 12-point lead and fell to the Falcons 25-24. In short, the Packers run defense let the team down again.
The Packers Run Defense Has Struggled
In 2022, the run defense ranked 26th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (139.5) and 28th in yards per attempt (5.0). The struggling run defense was one of many reasons the Pack had a disappointing season and missed the playoffs.
While Barry correctly emphasized stopping the pass, the run defense was so bad it consistently cost the Packers the chance to win football games.
The Defense Tries a New Approach
Barry promised the team would have a different approach this season and while the Packers defense would still emphasize stopping the pass, the run defense would be more effective.
The Bears were the first test, and the defense did its job, containing the Chicago rushing attack. The leading rusher for the Bears was quarterback Justin Fields who gained most of his yards long after the Packers had taken a large lead, and the outcome was decided. The running backs gained just 63 yards on 19 carries or just a 3.3-yard average.
The Packers Run Defense Returns to Form
But against the Falcons, the Packers run defense had no answer for the Falcons rushing attack which features the duo of Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson.
The defense did a good job of stopping Allgeier who does his best work between the tackles. He carried 16 times for 48 yards for an average of 3.0-yards per carry.
But Robinson ran consistently to the outside and found a lot of success. The rookie first-round pick out of Texas gained 124 yards on 19 carries for an average of 6.5-yard per attempt. He also caught four passes for 48 yards including a 29-yard gain.
As a team, Atlanta gained 211 yards on the ground on 45 carries. As a result, they were able to hold onto the football for 36:15 compared to just 23:45 for the Packers.
The Ripple Effect
The Packers defense was tired by the fourth quarter and Atlanta scored 13 unanswered points to win the game.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur didn’t mince words in his post-game press conference. When asked about the run defense, he simply said, “You guys saw it. They shredded us consistently.”
The defense missed numerous tackles and couldn’t stop Robinson from getting to the edge. They knew the Falcons would keep running to the outside until the Packers stopped them, but they never did. The outside linebackers failed to contain on the edge and didn’t stay in their lanes. Defenders often took poor angles or were just blocked before they could get to the right spot to make the tackle.
A look at the final statistics reinforces what went wrong for the run defense. The Packers made 87 total tackles in this game but 40 of them were assisted tackles. In this game, it was more indicative of poor tackling angles and missed tackles than it was of a defense flowing to the ball carrier and making a big stop. Out of those 87 tackles, the Packers had just one tackle for loss.
The two leading tacklers were inside linebackers Quay Walker and De’Vondre Campbell. Walker had eight solo tackles and nine assisted stops while Campbell had seven solo and seven assisted. Often, the assisted tackles were due to having to chase down runners who went to the outside and got to the edge. Clark also had six total tackles but only one solo stop.
Packers Run Defense Fails to Adjust
Barry failed to make the in-game adjustments that would have at least given the defense a chance to slow down Robinson. The failure to make adjustments during the game has long been a criticism of the Packers defensive coordinator. That pattern continued Sunday in Atlanta.
The Packers still have time to fix this problem. But unlike the offense, the defense is an experienced unit with plenty of veterans in the starting lineup. The Packers defense was supposed to be a unit that helped carry the inexperienced offense this season, especially early in the year. Unless adjustments and changes are made, this could be another long year for the run defense which would almost certainly be reflected in the standings.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage