Green Bay lost their most efficient edge rusher this offseason in Za’darius Smith to the division rival Vikings, leaving them without a true star on their defensive line to get after the quarterback. With their remaining depth and talent being largely unproven or having reached their ceiling as a player, the efficiency of the four man rush in Green Bay can be called into question this season.
Green Bay’s proven talent remaining in their front seven includes Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, and De’vondre Campbell. Smith and Clark are both proficient in run defense and have been good pieces that have complimented the defense well in blitz packages. Preston Smith will start as the edge rusher alongside emerging star Rashan Gary, and can be expected to have a similar year to his 2021 campaign. Kenny Clark has been a stud on the interior for Green Bay in past years, and has proven to be one of the better interior threats in the league. De’vondre Campbell, while spending the majority of his snaps in the middle linebacker spot, was a key to the Packers blitz packages, accruing 2 sacks and 3 forced fumbles working the middle of the field, helping the defense disrupt the line of scrimmage. Packers coordinator Joe Barry is going into his second year on the job, and his turnover and sack oriented approach to defense should be taking full advantage of this disruptive front seven as he grows comfortable with his guys and his staff. With Za’darius Smith’s production being up for grabs, it is reasonable to expect a somewhat impressive 20 sacks between Clark, Preston, and Campbell.
The potential wildcard to this defense that, on paper, could finish top five as it is loaded with stars on all parts of the field, is Rashan Gary. Gary finished last season with 9.5 sacks, though he did not get to the quarterback once in the first four weeks of the season. He’s an explosive athlete who specializes in bull rushing offensive tackles and using his motor to beat the offensive line. While many project a breakout double digit sack campaign from Gary this year, I believe that there needs to be a little bit of skepticism surrounding his production last year and its likelihood to be repeated. Gary benefited from excellent defensive scheming and coverage from the secondary last year, cleaning up several coverage sacks and having his stats inflated by those occurrences. He showed plenty of potential, but was a relatively inefficient pass rusher who did not boast a high pressure rate. The tools and opportunity are there for him this year, but expectations must be tempered as he is yet to show extraordinary polish. Gary could easily put up a 10-15 sack year for Green Bay, however, and will likely be the star on the defensive line.
The biggest change from last year’s defense for Green Bay, however, may actually be the addition of rookie Quay Walker. Walker is a speedy linebacker who will be able to keep up with running backs in coverage, and will allow the Packers to sport two inside linebackers on the field at once. With their impressive secondary boasting star cornerback Jaire Alexander and the safety tandem of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, as well as good depth at cornerback, they may be able to move away from their historically nickel heavy looks in 2022. This new personnel option gives them more freedom to blitz and load the box against the run, as they have players they can trust on the back half of the field. This will mean more linebacker blitzes and options when faced with dynamic offenses, likely leading to more pressure on the quarterback.
Even though Green Bay lost a star from their front seven, they have the pieces to replace him and will more than likely be able to replicate last year’s dangerous pass rush. The defense should continue to improve as young players develop, and the unit should be exciting to watch this year. With the loss of Davante Adams, the Packers may need to take a much more gritty approach to win games by keeping the ball on the ground and playing stingy defense, and all signs point to Joe Barry and his guys being up to the challenge.