The Green Bay Packers defense has had its moments this season. Some positives to build on.
However, the pass rush has been a concern over the first three weeks of the regular season, and that could continue with Za’Darius Smith now facing extended time out of action.
According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport, Smith underwent back surgery and will miss an “extended period of time”, while the Packers “hope is it’s not a season-ending situation”.
The key word there is “hope”. According to Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, the Packers aren’t expecting him to return this season.
While incredibly disappointing, it’s not all that surprising. Smith has been dealing with a back injury since training camp, and the fact there appeared to be no signs of improvement over the weeks leading up to the season was a concern.
He did play in Week 1 versus the New Orleans Saints but was limited and struggled to make much of an impact. The Packers placed him on injured reserve with the hope he could get fully healthy and return in 2021.
Based on the reports above, that now seems a long shot.
Packers pass rush is a concern without Za’Darius Smith
According to Pro Football Focus, Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary were the only Packers defenders to hit 10 percent or better in pass-rush win rate in Week 3. However, in the article, Anthony Treash noted that most of Gary’s pass-rush production was “gifted to him in some way”.
Joe Barry’s defense took a step in the right direction against the 49ers, but it was hardly a dominant performance. The 49ers scored 28 points in little over two quarters. After a fast start, the Packers struggled.
While they did get four sacks, it wasn’t a dominant night by the pass rush by any means. And when we look across the three games, Green Bay’s pass rush has been nowhere near good enough.
The Packers had zero sacks in Week 1, and only one versus the Detroit Lions because Jared Goff sacked himself by dropping a wet ball. It wasn’t until last Sunday night against the 49ers that a Packers defender registered a sack.
According to ESPN, Green Bay has a pass-rush win rate of 39 percent, ranking 23rd in the league. When this defense comes up against great offensive lines and some of the top quarterbacks in the game, generating pass rush will be crucial.
Without Smith, the Packers need other defenders to step up.
Gary has looked the most likely to be that player, but it’s now time for the former first-round pick to turn potential into consistent production.
Without Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay’s front seven hasn’t been able to generate consistent pressure or make enough game-changing plays. That’s where Smith is missed the most.
Potentially without their Pro Bowl pass rusher for the rest of the season, the Packers have a real problem on defense.