Packers: Why it’s time to get excited about the defense

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 05: Allen Robinson #12 of the Chicago Bears is dropped by Darnell Savage #26 and Blake Martinez #50 of the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on September 05, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 10-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 05: Allen Robinson #12 of the Chicago Bears is dropped by Darnell Savage #26 and Blake Martinez #50 of the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on September 05, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 10-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

It was only one game so let’s not overreact, but this Green Bay Packers defense could be special.

If you would have told me a week ago the final score of the Packers-Bears game would be 10-3, I would have automatically assumed the Bears would be the victors. Except it was the Packers who were victorious in the NFL’s 100th season opener.

All night long, the defense applied pressure to Mitch Trubisky and the Bears offense while playing solid coverage against the receivers.

It was only one game but if this was a sample of things to come on defense, this could be a dangerous team.

It was to be expected the offense would struggle — zero snaps in the preseason and a new offense with a rookie head coach is not exactly the recipe for success. Even with having a two-time MVP under center, no-one should have expected a smooth start. Making matters worse was facing a top-ranked defense.

But, unlike previous editions of the Packers, the defense was ready to step up and carry the load.

Granted, the defense was playing a quarterback who has yet to show any type of consistency. Yet, this same quarterback sliced up the Packers defense in last year’s opener. Despite Trubisky’s struggles, the Bears offense was no slouch last season, finishing in the top 10 in points scored.

But there would be no high-flying offense for Matt Nagy and the Bears. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his crew kept the Bears out of the end zone, only allowing a field goal to account for their scoring.

The Packers defense has put up performances like this before, including a shutout of the Bills in 2018. But this year feels different. Unlike previous seasons and renditions of other teams, this defense is built to last.

The Packers have young emerging talent at every level of their defense mixed in with veterans entering their prime. The one outlier on the team is Tramon Williams, who showed he still has a lot to offer in the latter stages of his career.

Players like Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, and Blake Martinez are young veterans who are hitting the sweet spot in their career where talent, knowledge and skill meet. Clark is at the top of his game and with another step in his development, could be at the top of his position.

Behind them are high-round draft picks ready to break out. The Packers have three corners and one safety drafted in the first two rounds who look to be contributors for years to come. Jaire Alexander looks like the next great corner, while when healthy, Kevin King offers a different skill set. Both players are fast and can hold up in man, but King has size that Alexander does not, giving Pettine a corner capable of matching up no matter the type of receiver.

Starting Tony Brown on Thursday was a smart move. King has been battling hamstring issues dating back to last season, and easing him back into the lineup will only benefit the team and King.

It also gave the Packers a chance to test their depth. Brown and Ka’Dar Hollman do not carry the same draft status as King, Alexander, or Josh Jackson. They fought hard to earn their position on the team and look like great depth pieces.

In Darnell Savage, the Packers have speed and ball skills that have been lacking since the retirement of Nick Collins. It was only one game, but in his NFL debut, Savage gave up so much to be excited about.

The collection of talent on defense isn’t a new idea. Former GM Ted Thompson drafted heavily on defense in the years following the 2010 season. The difference is that Brian Gutekunst isn’t afraid to invest in players he didn’t draft.

Za’Darius and Preston Smith, along with Adrian Amos, were difference makers in the game against the Bears. Unlike some of the players Thompson brought in, they are entering, not exiting, their prime.

Julius Peppers was a fine player when he came on board in 2014. But he was on the home stretch of his career and not quite the player he was when the Bears signed him away from the Panthers.

In fact, after signing Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson, Thompson would only sign players who were cut from their previous teams, not frontline free agents.

No such problem now. The Smiths look like a solid tandem, while Amos is the assignment sound communicator the Packers need with such a young secondary. It almost sounds like an insult to Amos to describe him in that manner.

Thursday night he proved he is much more, making plays behind the line of scrimmage with blitzes and in run support. He also provided the nail in the coffin, intercepting Trubisky in the end zone.

The Packers have yet to completely unveil their entire package of players. Rookie first-round pick Rashan Gary played only a handful of snaps, while Oren Burks is recovering from another injury. Both will figure to be big role players later in the season.

The opponents will get better, starting next week. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings offense ran the ball right down the throats of the Atlanta Falcons in a way-too-easy win.

In addition, the Packers have Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott, and Cam Newton ahead on the schedule. Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley will also test the Packers run defense.

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I have no doubt this crew will be ready to roll. Because, while the opponents will get tougher, this defense will also grow and get better.

It was one game, but there is a whole lot to be excited about.