Safety was one of the biggest question marks for the Green Bay Packers entering the 2023 NFL season. The team faced a lot of uncertainty with the only clear-cut starter being a former first-round pick who was benched late last season for poor play. The other starting position was up for grabs with none of the candidates being proven, starting-caliber players in the NFL.
In the Packers Week 1 win over the Bears, the team got both good news and bad news at the safety position. Here is a look at what happened in Week 1 in Chicago and where the Packers stand at safety at this point in the season.
The Good News for the Packers at Safety: Darnell Savage
Darnell Savage struggled last season and had the shakiest season of his NFL career. The former first-round pick out of Maryland was benched in the second half of the 2022 season for poor play. He was struggling in coverage and was making embarrassing attempts at tackles.
The low point for Savage came in the Packers loss to the Buffalo Bills when Savage made a feeble attempt to tackle Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. Allen scrambled right past Savage and picked up a crucial first down. Savage seemed disinterested in making the stop in front of a national television audience.
Savage came to training camp this year knowing he was facing a critical season. He is playing 2023 on his fifth-year option and his future with the Packers and possibly in the NFL will be determined by how he plays this year.
In the season opener against Chicago, Savage led the team with 10 total tackles. He was credited with one tackle for loss and made several plays in the box near the line of scrimmage. Savage didn’t miss any tackles in the game.
Praise from the Head Coach
When asked about Savage’s play, head coach Matt LaFleur said he, “Played a really complete game. I thought he was flying around. Obviously, led us in tackles with 10. I was just really happy for him.”
LaFleur noticed a difference in Savage’s approach this year. “We all know the up and down he had last season, “LaFleur said. “I think he’s really done a great job of coming in each and every day with a great energy, and he does a hell of a job communicating with the back end. Making sure everyone is on the same page. His practice habits have been outstanding. He’s doing a really good job. He’s off to a really good start. And we anticipate and expect it to keep on going that way.”
Obviously, Savage must continue to build off his strong start, but the good opening game was very encouraging.
The Bad News at Safety: Rudy Ford
But on Sunday in Chicago, Ford missed two tackles. He also struggled in pass coverage and just looked a step too late when trying to read pass patterns and anticipate passes. The former Auburn star was on the field for 93 percent of the team’s defensive snaps before being replaced late in the game by Owens who played 14 defensive snaps which mostly came after the game had already been decided. He did not have a pass thrown to a receiver he was covering during the game according to pro-football-reference.com.
Ford needs to improve his play if he hopes to hold on to the job. It remains possible that the Packers look to bring in another safety if Ford continues to struggle. GM Brian Gutekunst could make a trade before the trade deadline, or the Packers could search practice squads or the waiver wire to add another player.
The good news is that at least one safety seems to have gotten off to a good start in Joe Barry’s defense this year. Savage needs to continue to play consistently, and the Packers need Ford or another player to step up and improve this position that has been an issue for the defense.
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