Packers: Three regression candidates on defense in 2021

Green Bay Packers, Preston Smith - Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers, Preston Smith - Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The defense has been the crutch for the Green Bay Packers for a long time. The offense, mostly led by Aaron Rodgers, has long carried the team.

Two years ago, GM Brian Gutekunst injected the defense with some talent by spending some big money in free agency and adding Za’Darius and Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos, and spending two first-round draft picks on Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage.

Last season, the Packers’ defense was an average to an above-average unit. They finished the season tied with the Chicago Bears for 13th in points allowed (23.1). They were also 13th in rush yards allowed per game (112.8). They shined in pass defense, allowing just 221.2 yards per game, good for seventh in the league. They finished the 2020 season ninth overall in total yards allowed (334.0).

This was one of the better defenses Green Bay has had since they won the Super Bowl in 2010. Cornerback Jaire Alexander is on another planet as a pass defender and Darnell Savage really came on at the end.

But as good as some of the players were last year, it’s going to be tough for some of them to sustain that play. Let’s take a look at three defensive players who are candidates for regression in the 2021 season.

LB Preston Smith

2020 stats: 42 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 7 tackles for loss

Preston Smith already had a down year in 2020, but I think he may regress even more in 2021. That’s not necessarily because he got worse, but because he’s probably going to lose some snaps.

Third-year player, Rashan Gary, has always been the future at the outside linebacker position. He’s shown some promise and has earned more snaps in the upcoming season. Za’Darius Smith certainly isn’t going to be losing snaps, so Preston Smith is likely the guy that will see less playing time, barring an injury.

This will likely be Smith’s last year in Green Bay after reworking his contract this offseason. Don’t be surprised if he starts getting phased out of the defense in favor of Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary.

CB Jaire Alexander

2020 stats: 51 tackles, 1 interception, 13 passes defended, 1.0 sack

I really hope I’m wrong about this one. Jaire Alexander was absolutely lights out in 2020. He 100 percent deserved All-Pro recognition but was snubbed by the voters for bigger names like Jalen Ramsey. I think the only reason is that he had just one regular-season interception.

The only reason he’s on this list is because of how great he was last year. It’s going to be very hard for Alexander to repeat what he did in 2020. This is similar to the Aaron Rodgers prediction for regression in the offensive candidates for regression in 2021. His 2020 season was just so good, that it wouldn’t surprise me if he was still an elite cornerback, but maybe not as good as last year.

DL Dean Lowry

2020 stats: 36 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 2 tackles for loss

Dean Lowry’s situation feels a lot like Preston Smith’s. He’s been a starter for this defense for a while now and even earned a nice payday with the Packers a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played up to that contract.

And like Preston Smith, his replacement is likely on the roster already. The Packers drafted Kingsley Keke a couple of years ago and I think they are expecting a big jump from him this year. I think Keke will start taking more and more snaps away from Lowry and eventually taking a majority of the snaps from him. Less playing time equals less production. I think Lowry is due for even more regression in 2021.

Lowry has two years left on his deal, but there is a potential out after this season. Don’t be surprised if the Packers look to shed his contract after this season and free up some cap space.

Next. Four most disappointing moments of offseason for Packers. dark