The Perfect Balance of Green Bay’s Defense will Define the 2022 Season

It has all come together with stars at every level

Rasul Douglas and De'Vondre Campbell (www.allproreels.com — Washington Football Team at Green Bay Packers from Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin, October 24th, 2021 - All-Pro Reels Photography)

This isn’t a defense that fans of the Green Bay Packers get to see often. Hell, this isn’t a defense that NFL fans get to see often.

Sure, there are a few potentially dominant defenses around the league heading into 2022. The Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers come to mind, along with a few others.

But it’s the insanely-perfect balance that Green Bay’s defense boasts that sets them apart.

The 2022 Green Bay Packers will be led by their defense. Which, at first, makes all the sense in the world — just look at the roster. But it does feel a bit peculiar to say that about a team that features the back-to-back AP MVP winning quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football. The Packers’ running back duo might be the best backfield tandem since Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. And still, Green Bay’s defense will lead the way.

Gone are the days of needing to score 30 points to win… at least for now.

As Aaron Rodgers’ career begins to wind down (what a seemingly stupid thing to say about a two-time reigning MVP), it’s more important than ever for the defense to dominate. But really, that’s always been the truth.

Seven times the Packers had the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL (twice in the Super Bowl era). They won the league championship in five of those seven seasons. The highest ranked defense of the Aaron Rodgers era was, surprise, the 2010 Packers. That squad ended the season ranked No. 2 in defense. Brett Favre had one No. 1 ranked defense and his Packers won it all that year.

The Packers have won 13 World Championships, the most in NFL history. The team has never won a title without having at least the fourth best scoring defense in the league.

Astonishing isn’t it?

Defense wins championships. We’ve all heard it a million times, but dammit, it’s so true.

How high can this defense be ranked in 2022? Could they take a stab at the No. 1 spot? This question gets more interesting when you ponder what the best defenses in the NFL perpetually have:

Balance.

What of Balance?

It’s one thing to have dominant players on defense. Every team has at least one or two. It’s another thing to not have a definitive strength on a universally-admired defensive unit.

Which group is the best?

It likely depends on the day, which is quite unique. The fact that there isn’t a clear answer as to which facet of Green Bay’s defense is the strongest is the ultimate compliment.

Every level of the Packers’ defense has a clearly-defined, playmaking leader.

Up front: Kenny Clark

On the edge: Rashan Gary

In the middle: De’Vondre Campbell

On the outside: Jaire Alexander

In the back: Adrian Amos

Those are the five blocks in which the Packers’ defense has been built. Those are the players that everyone on that side of the ball will look to. These are the cornerstones that bring such balance to the Packers’ defense. Three were drafted and two were signed as free agents. General manager Brian Gutekunst gets credit for everyone except former first round pick Kenny Clark — thanks Ted Thompson!

There isn’t one facet of the defense that lacks a playmaker or leader.

No One Walks Alone

What makes this defense truly unique is all five of these guys have a partner that helps them be even greater in the base defense.

Kenny Clark has Jarran Reed.

Rashan Gary has Preston Smith.

De’Vondre Campbell has Quay Walker.

Jaire Alexander has Eric Stokes.

Adrian Amos has Darnell Savage.

Of the five guys mentioned above, three were drafted and two were signed as free agents. This defense was meticulously built. And we didn’t just list 10 of the Packers’ potential defensive starters for the hell of it. We want to illustrate that even the ‘secondary’ options on this defense are fantastic. Not only that, each of them can and will help the cornerstone players reach their full potential.

These guys all hitting the peak of their potential at once? That’s a recipe for a Super Bowl. I know, the season hasn’t even started yet and expectation is a thief of joy, but this defense has that type of skill.

Notice the players we haven’t even mentioned yet?

Fan-favorite Rasul Douglas. And it’s not only the fans that have fallen in love with Douglas.

Aaron Rodgers recently said, “Rasul is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever played with. He reminds me a lot in the deepest respect of Charles Woodson.” Rodgers continued, “He has incredible ball skills. He baits you at practice. He has the competitive fire that Charles did.”

What a powerful statement by 12.

And again, Rodgers said that about a cornerback that isn’t even the best cornerback on the team.

Unreal.

Rookie defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt is another player to watch that we haven’t touched on (but will later). He has the tools to make an immediate difference, but we’ll have to watch to see how it plays out.

Joe Barry, Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, is absolutely blessed with this assemblage of talent. And it’s no coincidence that inside linebacker is a point of emphasis for this defense since bringing him into the fold.

Barry has coached linebackers in either college football or the NFL since 1999, with brief stints at defensive coordinator. Brian Gutekunst had a vision for rebuilding this defense and all of the pieces are finally in place.

The time is now. Or, perhaps better stated, “it is time.”

Head coach Matt LaFleur may be the biggest beneficiary of this plan. Barry’s overseeing of this defense, now in his second season in Titletown USA, could be what puts this team (that has won 13 games in three consecutive seasons) over the top.

Titles are never won without breakout stars.

Rising Stars

Rashan Gary is ascending to superstardom. Not many people would argue that. Jaire Alexander is probably already there. His injury last season was a bummer, but still, people who know ball know Alexander is CB1 material for all of the NFL.

They are the two most talented players on this defense, in our opinion. And they’re still rising.

Kenny Clark and De’Vondre Campbell are in the next tier beneath them. Clark, we’d argue, is a star for his position, but we wouldn’t go superstar — yet!

Campbell had an amazing season in 2021. He was the first inside linebacker in Green Bay to be named First Team All-Pro since Ray Nistchke.

Wow.

If he can follow that up with another huge season, then sure, superstar it is.

Young Guys with star potential:

Eric Stokes

After one season in Green Bay he looks like the real deal. His speed and ability to cover one-on-one on the outside at such a young age is nothing short of breathtaking. He lacks no confidence.

Rasul Douglas

OK, Douglas isn’t quite as young, but it seems like his career is just taking off. He might have been the most impactful player on the Packers’ defense in 2021 after he signed with the team in October! It’s truly unbelievable. If Rodgers’ glowing assessment of his intelligence and swagger is correct, then stardom really may be on the horizon.

Darnell Savage

Some people are down on the fourth-year safety, but we haven’t lost hope. He has elite speed and shows flashes of ball-hawking ability. Savage has star potential. Whether he reaches it or not, obviously, remains to be seen, but you won’t find us counting him out just yet.

The kids from Georgia: Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt

These two first round picks, we hope, will anchor the middle of the defense for years to come. Probably not this year for Wyatt, as he’ll likely serve in more of a rotational role in 2022, but he has the frame and pedigree to be the man in the middle some day. Walker? Hell, he’ll be thrown into the fire from day one. If he can translate his sideline-to-sideline speed into every play, then stardom will come.

It is amazing that both don’t have to be ‘the guy’ right away, due to the Packers’ strength in the middle of the defense. First Round picks that don’t feel the pressure immediately? It’s the perfect situation for them to grow. Yes, Walker will start and be highly-scrutinized as a starter, but he’ll have an all-pro beside him taking much of the heat off of him.

Like a Perfectly Humming Ecosystem

Each facet of the Packers’ defense will feed the other. This harmony is what all general managers, head coaches and defensive coordinators strive for — but very few actually find.

Let us explain.

Enter: The Big Boys in the Trenches

Kenny Clark finally has help up front, but not just help, real help. Actual help. And depth on top of that. Clark’s new running mate Jarran Reed, a free agency signing, will be beside him all year.

The longtime Seattle Seahawk, most recently Kansas City Chief, Reed, is the best veteran that Clark played with on the defensive line in his time in Green Bay. This could, sneakily, be one of the best free agency signings of the Gutekunst Era.

But the best player that Clark has patterned with very well could end up being rookie Devonte Wyatt. It’s true that we don’t know yet. But the first round pick out of Georgia was an absolute force in the SEC. He plugged up the middle of the field for the 2021 National Champion Bulldogs.

Behind them, you’ll find T.J. Slaton, a promising 330 pound second year player. And don’t forget about the ever-reliable Dean Lowry. He isn’t flashy, but he won’t lose you a game either.

Kenny Clark by Jeffrey Beall / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

The fact the Packers’ defensive front will be able to stay fresh will be a first for Kenny Clark. When he was not on the field in previous seasons, the defense operated quite differently. In 2022, he should be able to find some rest without the defense faltering. Not since 1996 has a Packers’ defensive line been so stacked (we’ll dive further into that unit later).

This attack, and depth, will haunt quarterbacks this fall. They won’t be able to step up into the pocket as much as in recent years. That will take many throws away from opposing quarterbacks and limit the velocity on others.

But that isn’t the only benefit of not allowing the quarterback to step up.

This group will keep offensive linemen occupied, freeing up the linebacking core. Offensive linemen won’t be able to get to the second level as often and Green Bay’s inside linebackers will be able to play the purest form of position. Read and react… with speed.

However, the biggest impact the revamped defensive line will have, in terms of creating for other position groups, is for the edge rushers.

Enter: Rashan Gary and Preston Smith

Green Bay’s edge rushers will get to attack the quarterbacks with a little more recklessness in 2022, because they know the defensive tackles and ends will keep the quarterback exposed.

Gary is the star, for sure, but Smith is one of this team’s most crucial leaders (we give our predictions for their sack totals at the end of this piece).

We anticipate seeing more holding penalties in 2022 as offensive tackles won’t be able to just push Gary and Smith past a stepping up quarterback. This is thanks to the Packers’ stout front — FINALLY!

The attention that Gary and Smith receive (especially Gary) will allow defensive coordinator Joe Barry the freedom to dial up more creative blitzes from the linebackers and safeties, too. They’ll be able to blitz between the tackles as Clark and his crew plug up the middle with Gary and Preston pulling most of the attention of the tackles.

If this style of creative blitzes work, which we think it will, then opposing offenses will have to keep extra backs or tight ends in to block more often than ever. This will then make offenses even less difficult for the secondary and linebacking core to handle (less guys running routes will do that).

It all works together folks, we’re telling you.

Enter: The Cornerbacks

It’s not often we get to enjoy a cornerback room as special as the group currently found in Titletown, USA.

The 2010 crew featuring Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields (2010-2012) was the best unit since the Lombardi Era in Green Bay.

Of course, when referencing the Lombardi years, we’re speaking of Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter (1963-1969). However, Adderley and Jesse Whittenton (1961-1964) were dominant in their own right. Obviously the three overlapped for two special seasons. And hey, Doug Hart (1964-1971) wasn’t so bad either.

That said, the Woodson and Al Harris duo was pretty damn incredible (2006-2009). They were one of the most fun duos in franchise history. We’re not sure if there will ever be a unit with more swagger than those two. The shutdown and the ballhawk. Man, we miss those days.

Not to be overlooked, the Packers’ ‘Lean Years’ yielded a special combination of corners as well. Ken Ellis and Willie Buchanon were the bright spots of a horrible defense in those years (1972-1975). They were the players that Packers fans of that decade took pride in — and for good reason.

But Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas have a chance to build an incredible legacy in Green Bay. This will be their first full season together.

They’ll get to be ballhawks, able to jump routes knowing that the ball will be coming out sooner. If opposing quarterbacks can’t step up (thanks to Clark and Co.) Rashan Gary will ensure that the ball is coming out quickly.

We are anticipating a huge uptick in interceptions in 2022 and ‘Pressure Created Interceptions‘ in particular. This is a stat that we’ve been tracking recently and one we believe the NFL will, some day, track as well.

Some interceptions are due to the pressure on the quarterback. We think this defense is poised to deliver many of these. For reference, in 2021 the Packers boasted eight PCIs (on 18 total interceptions). We believe both of those numbers will be significantly higher this fall. We believe we’ll see 12 PCIs this year.

Rashan Gary led the Packers with four PCIs in 2021. Don’t be surprised if he has a few more this fall. This defense is ready to explode. The cornerbacks will take advantage of the way this defense plays all year, if everyone stays healthy (fingers crossed). They won’t have to cover as long and that spells trouble for receivers that can’t handle one-on-one coverage.

Alexander, Rasul, and Stokes are all more physical than you’d think for their size. This defense will fear absolutely no one.

Enter: The Safeties

The cornerback group is so strong that the safeties will have more freedom to act instinctively and make plays.

We see Adrian Amos playing closer to the line of scrimmage with more regularity in 2022. Get creative with them, Barry! This fall we’re anticipating that Amos will run and pass blitz more than he has in his entire career. That is how drastically this defense has evolved.

The cornerbacks playing man-to-man as much as any team in the league, which we’re expecting, Darnell Savage may be the ultimate beneficiary.

Savage is the true centerfielder of this defense, we just need it to all come together. His speed will allow him to take more chances and to play the quarterback’s eyes, instead of double-teaming wide receivers. Picture Alexander and Stokes on the outside and Douglas potentially in the slot, all playing man-to-man. Then imagine the defensive front putting so much pressure on the quarterback.

With that extra player (either tight end, running back, or fullback) staying in to block, Savage will be freed up to become the player he was meant to be.

Again, this couldn’t happen without the rest of the defense being dominant at every level. Speaking of dominance…

Enter: De’Vondre Campbell and his understudies

Let’s dive into the most fun position group on this overhauled defense.

The linebacking core, which went from a glaring weakness to an incredible strength in just two years, is going to excel in 2022.

With the defensive line holding as firm as it has in over a decade, the edge rushers led by Gary and the defensive backfield able to play man-to-man — it’s a good time to be a Packers linebacker.

De’Vondre Campbell will look to build upon his First-Team All-Pro selection and rookie Quay Walker, who has even better speed, should form an incredible tandem. And when it comes to depth at the position, Krys Barnes is as good as they come. He is fast and has shown good instincts when it comes to shedding blocks and stuffing holes. He, like both of the starters, has sideline-to-sideline speed.

I don’t think we’ve ever seen this type of speed from ILBs in Packers history.

What’s most exciting about this defense is that the inside linebackers won’t be counted on to do anything outside of their positions. For them in 2022, it’s all about not doing too much. Just be in position, make your reads, and blow up plays.

This linebacker core is strong enough to act as a bandaid for this defense, but they won’t need to be. There is no weakness for them to help overcome. They just need to ball. Just go out there and create havoc, knowing the rest of the defense has their assignments under control.

Is there a more beautiful sentence to a linebacker?

On paper, this defense is the best since 2010 with the potential to be the best since 1996. But it didn’t happen by accident.

How did this Defense get so Deep/Balanced?

Well, good drafting. You have to start there. Credit to Brian Gutekunst for hitting on the defensive prospects more often than not. This is something man NFL franchises struggle with.

Smart use of free agency. This is another huge point. You can’t use free agency to build a team, but you can use it to make a few additions. If you swing big? You have to hit. Fortunately, ‘Gute’ didn’t swing big on most of the guys on this defense that he didn’t draft. Instead he took chances on players that other teams overlooked and he has been rewarded.

But ‘Gute’ did more than draft well and hit on overlooked free agents. He made a few trades to acquire extra draft picks to use on premier prospects. He is a general manager that isn’t afraid to commit to and follow a plan. We love that about him. He takes chances.

What more can you ask for in an NFL general manager?

Brian Gutekunst has made at least one draft day trade in every draft since he was named general manager of the Green Bay Packers. He made three in 2018, his first season in the role, setting the tone for how he’s building this team.

However, some of the biggest trades come in the months leading up to the draft in which the Packers get extra pieces. Moving Davante Adams is a great example of this. The Packers’ defense doesn’t look as balanced as it is if ‘Gute’ didn’t make big moves. Securing two first round picks in the same draft is huge (like he did this year). But using both of those on defensive players when the team has the best quarterback in the league?

Brilliant.

Questions About Depth

If there’s one valid question about this defense that can be raised, it’s about the depth in a couple places. No one is questioning the depth of the defensive line or inside linebacker.

But depth at edge rusher and in the secondary does raise some eyebrows.

Can it survive a catastrophic injury on the edge or in the secondary? Well, to be honest, most teams can’t. But this defense, even with how perfectly balanced it is, probably can’t either. But that’s life in the NFL.

Gutekunst has already addressed this a bit with the signing of veteran safety Rudy Ford. He isn’t a star, but he’s played 56 games in the league and is coming off a career-high 53 tackles.

All we can do as fans is hope that the team stays relatively healthy at those two position groups. Then again, injuries create depth. We never know who will be the next guy to step up. Perhaps outside backer Tia Galeai steps up when he gets his opportunity?

The beauty of not knowing is that we never know.

Now lets hand out some accolades before the season starts.

Most Important Defensive Player

De’Vondre Campbell, probably. But we hope that it’s Rashan Gary. We hope that he takes that next step that he simply cannot be ignored as the most impactful, important player on the defense.

That said, Campbell just brings so much to this defense that can’t be replicated. I mean, when you’re the first person to do something in Green Bay since Ray Nitschke (get named First Team All-Pro) you get all the credit in the world.

Most Irreplaceable Defensive Player

Kenny Clark. For all of the talented players on the Packers’ defense, Kenny is the most irreplaceable. Just what he brings play-in and play-out cannot be overstated. To move as fast as he can with that much strength? Come on. After him, we’d probably go Adrian Amos.

Amos isn’t the best player on this defense, not by a long shot, but he might play his position as good as anyone on the field. However it’s his intelligence and poise that make him so irreplaceable for this team. He’s a true leader by example. Doesn’t say too much, but everyone looks to him in crunch time.

Most Fun to Watch

Rasul Douglas. Could it be anyone else? OK, yeah, it could be with this defense. But Douglas gets our vote. Him jumping routes for interceptions is a sight we could never grow tire of. But honestly, we hope a different player takes this title.

Quay Walker, we hope, becomes the most fun player to watch on this defense. His speed instantly gives him a chance to become that guy, but if he makes some splash plays? Come on.

Most Fun to Root For

Jaire Alexander. Easy.

Rashan Gary is right there, too.

No, we will not be explaining ourselves. You watch the Packers, you know why those guys were chosen.

Breakout Player

We’re going to classify Gary as ‘already broken out’ even if not completely. So we’ll answer this question with Eric Stokes and the rookie Quay Walker. It may be early to include Walker in a ‘breakout’ capacity, but he has the skills to make a huge difference from day one.

The caveat here is if Gary puts together an 18-20 sack season, well then sure, we’ll count him as the Packers’ ‘breakout’ player of 2022. But we’d settle for a four to five interception season from Stokes to take this title. If he continues to develop and keeps building his legacy as a sticky, possible shutdown corner. There is no cap to his potential.

What History Says

When is the last time the Packers had a defense this strong, this deep and this talented?

2010?

That defense was stifling. It was a proud defense led by a couple all-time great Packers in Charles Woodson and a young (but prime) Clay Matthews.

Woodson is one of the greatest players in NFL history. Lets get that out of the way. There isn’t a defensive player on the 2022 Packers as talented as him.

But that defense didn’t have the balance that this 2022 squad boasts.

The 2010 team had Frank Zombo starting at outside linebacker and Charlie Peprah at safety. Neither of those guys would come close to starting on the Packers’ current defense. AJ Hawk, although serviceable and a player we think had an underrated Packers career, never hit the ceiling that De’Vondre Campbell hit last year at inside linebacker.

And still, that defense was incredible. Green Bay never trailed by more than seven points  for the entire 2010 season.

That is how special the Packers’ 2022 defense could be.

What about the 1996 defense?

Well, that defense was, of course, led by Reggie White and LeRoy Butler. Green Bay had the best defense in the league that year, chiefly because of those two men.

White may be the greatest defensive player in NFL history. He’s at least in the conversation. Again, there isn’t a player on the 2022 Packers (or maybe in the NFL right now) as talented as him.

LeRoy Butler was one of the most unique defense players in NFL history at the point, as he redefined the safety position.

Gilbert Brown anchored the middle of the defensive line at nose tackle while Santana Dotson and Sean Jones completed perhaps the best defensive line in team history (thanks Reggie).

But after that?

That team had just okay linebackers and just okay cornerbacks. We believe the Packers’ current linebackers and cornerbacks would be miles head of those guys. And again, this was the best defense in the league in 1996. We should probably mention safety Eugene Robinson, too. He brought a lot of fear to wide receivers that season.

Also, are you noticing a theme? When the Packers have truly elite defenses, they win titles.

The Packers have been blessed with some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, but Titletown USA ultimately adds to its legacy when this team is great on the defensive side of the ball.

I mean, go back to the 1960s and start listing those defensive legends.

No for real, we’re going to do that. It’s so overwhelming to see so many Hall of Fame inductees on one defense. Bart Starr was the leader of that team, but that defense was the catalyst for the dynasty.

Willie Davis (DE), Ray Nitschke (MLB), Herb Adderley (CB), Dave Robinson (OLB), Willie Wood (S), Henry Jordan (DT).

Literally two Hall of Fame talents at every level.

But the talent didn’t end there. Lionel Aldridge was an exceptional defensive end. Bob Jeter was the other half of the best cornerback duo in team history (with Adderley). And linebacker Lee Roy Caffey doesn’t get the credit he deserves either.

Some have made the claim that Bill Forester should be in the Hall of Fame. Fellow linebacker Dan Currie was named First Team All-Pro, too. And the list goes on.

It’s clear why the Packers won five titles in a seven year span. Three times in the 1960s the Packers finished with the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL. The offense was integral, of course, but it wouldn’t have happened without the the talent on the defensive side of the ball.

And that is why we are so excited about what this current defense help this team accomplish.

Davante Adams is gone. Aaron Rodgers is a year older. Much of the NFC North is improved… but it just doesn’t matter.

It just doesn’t matter.

This team has legitimate Super Bowl aspirations and the crux of that hope is Green Bay’s defense.

But for the sake of fairness to the franchise’s history, lets touch on the other times Green Bay’s defense has been elite. Curly Lambeau’s defenses let up the fewest number of points on three occasions (including when the team went 12-0-1 in 1929 to kick-off a three-peat).

After the 1960s, the early 1930s was the era when the Packers had their most dominating defenses. However it is funny that when modern Packers teams compile elite defenses (No. 1 in 1996 and No. 2 in 2010) parades get planned.

What does 2022 have in store? All we have to do is sit back and watch.

Projecting Stats for the 2022 Packers’ Defense

OK, lets put a few predictions out there for the 2022 season.

Interceptions: 24 (led by Darnell Savage)

Sacks: 45 sacks (at a minimum; led by Rashan Gary)

Pressure Created Interceptions (PCIs): 12 (led by Gary)

Sack-Fumbles: 10

Pick-Six Interceptions: 4

Rashan Gary and Preston Smith: 30 sacks between them (with at least 18 by Gary).

Green Bay’s defense is capable of hitting these lofty projections.

How about this one? The Packers will finish the season with a top two scoring defense. They have a chance to reach No. 1, but we think they’ll finish in the top two.

We see the Packers going 13-4 this year. Yes, 13 wins for the fourth consecutive season. Aaron Rodgers will be his usual brilliant self and the duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will threaten to rewrite the Packers’ record books. We’ll see a more creative offensive attack and Mason Crosby will likely make the final kick of his underrated career.

But the story of the 2022 Packers will start and end with this historically-balanced defense.

 

Go Pack Go!

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