Is the Packers defense good enough to carry Aaron Rodgers?

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers have invested heavily in their defense. The early returns are paying off for a team looking to rebound.

For the last two decades, the Green Bay Packers have been carried by two generational quarterbacks; Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Those two passers have been able to elevate bad teams and especially weak defenses to playoff wins and Super Bowl rings. Whenever the Packers have needed to win a game, they have been able to rely on their franchise quarterback to put the team on their back and lead Green Bay to victory.

However, 2019 might be a different story for the Packers. While Rodgers is still widely considered to be one of the league’s best quarterbacks, the pressure might not be on him as much as in previous seasons to win games single-handly. Why is that the case? Because Green Bay’s defense might just be really, really good. In fact, it might be enough to win games, even if and when Rodgers plays poorly. And that is something that hasn’t happened in Green Bay in a very long time.

While you can never take too much from one single game, especially Week 1 contests, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Packers’ defense. This defense appears to have all of the makings of a unit that could finish in the top five in points and yards allowed. The most noticeable difference about this team is the amount of speed they have on defense. Today, we are going to take a look at how they shut down the Bears’ offense and why they could be a problem going forward for the rest of the NFC.

In the offseason, the Packers made two bold moves to upgrade their pass-rush. The team signed two under-the-radar edge defenders for a significant amount of money. Green Bay gave $112 million over four years to Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Those moves surprised a lot of people considering that neither ever had a season with at least nine sacks in their career.

However, what Green Bay saw in these two players are up-and-coming defenders who excel at stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. Both play with a surprising amount of power and don’t get moved off the edge. While their sack totals might not be very high, they create pressure around the quarterback as they are consistently squeezing the pocket size. They are both highly athletic and don’t mind playing in space.

In Week 1, the two combined to make ten tackles, three quarterback hits, two sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss and a pass deflection. Together, they were fantastic, and the two should only improve as they feel more comfortable in Mike Pettine’s scheme.

If there is one weakness on the Packers’ defense, it’s at linebacker. Veteran Blake Martinez is reliable, but the team has struggled to find a suitable counterpart. In Week 1, it was Raven Greene who made the start next to Martinez. The team is optimistic that Oren Burks will eventually win that job, once he is healthy.

In the secondary, the Packers have loaded their defense with highly athletic defenders compared to the league average. It’s a young, inexperienced group, but their athleticism allows them to fly all over the field to make plays. Take a look at how Green Bay’s starting secondary ranks via SPARQ’s athletic testing relative to their position:

CB Jaire Alexander – 92nd percentile 

CB Kevin King – 99th percentile

SS Darnell Savage – 86th percentile

FS Adrian Amos –  89th percentile

No other team in the NFL has a secondary that is as athletic as Green Bay’s. That speed and athleticism showed up on Thursday night. Savage was consistently around the ball from the safety position and has the versatility to line up all over the field. Second-year cornerback Jaire Alexander might have had the best individual performance as he finished the game with five tackles and two pass deflections.

But it was Adrian Amos who saved the day with his game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter. With the Bears driving to tie the game, Bears’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky threw a pass in the back of the end intended for Allen Robinson. Amos was able to read the quarterback’s eyes quickly and made the interception to seal the game.

These are the type of plays that we have grown accustomed to seeing from Amos throughout his career. The rangy free safety made the move from Chicago to Green Bay to make plays in the passing game. It’s pretty easy to say that he is already proving to be worth the investment for the Packers.

If players like Savage, Alexander and King can all continue to improve as the season goes along, we might be talking about Green Bay having one of the best secondaries in the entire league. Considering where this team was at just last year with the unit, that is quite the turnaround.

Green Bay isn’t going to need their defense to play at an elite level every week to win games. That’s the benefit of having a generational passer like Rodgers. However, the fact that they have enough talent to take over games by themselves should be terrifying to the rest of the NFC. Green Bay is a sleeping giant in a conference full of talented teams. Don’t be surprised if the Packers make a serious run at another Super Bowl this year due to their outstanding young defense.

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