After watching last night’s 24-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, I can say with full certainty that the 2021 Green Bay Packers defensive unit is legitimate, tough, and actually well-rounded.
Over my 15 years as a Packers fan, we’ve had very spotty defenses, very bad defenses, bend but don’t break defenses…but this year’s unit just feels different.
Although it’s not the most important thing, the stats back it up.
Let’s fire off some numbers here: The Packers are top-10 in passer rating allowed, top-10 in the league in sacks, top-10 in yards per reception allowed, top-eight in total passes defended, top-10 in points per game allowed, top-four in takeaways, and top-three in turnover differential.
These stats aren’t the only thing that back up the Packers defensive narrative though. If you’ve watched nearly any Packers game aside from Week 1, the differences compared to previous years’ defenses just jump off the screen.
A major complaint from previous years was how much separation was allowed in the passing game. On game-altering third-down situations, the corners and safeties would play 5-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, therefore allowing the catch.
And to make matters even worse, tackling was at an all-time low. Now, the team has the seventh-least missed tackles in the entire league. Joe Barry has come in, despite hard criticism, and completed the transformation of this Packers defensive unit. There’s no doubt that Matt LaFleur and Mike Pettine started the process a few years ago, but Barry has brought things full circle.
All of this was solidified for me personally with the way the team contained Kyler Murray last night. Given how dynamic the former Oklahoma QB is and how well he has played this season, I expected the defense to struggle and give up a ton of points.
Instead, aside from a few plays, the Packers kept the explosive Cardinals offense in check. Murray was limited to 21 rushing yards, a 67.0 QBR, and zero total touchdowns. The pass rush was explosive, the tackling was precise, the pass coverage was above average, and most importantly – they came up with a turnover in the clutchest point in the game.
The one awful part of Green Bay’s defense through Week 7 was the red-zone efficiency. Since the game against Washington, the Packers, despite a small two-game sample, have improved significantly in that stat. If they continue to clean that part of the defense up, this defense is borderline dangerous.
It’s important to keep in mind that they’re doing all of this without their best corner, Jaire Alexander, and best pass rusher over the past two years, Za’Darius Smith. If/when they return to the lineup, the defense should get even better.
This defense might not be at the tippity top of every stat category or feature multiple Pro Bowl players, but they get the job done on Sunday and that’s the only thing that matters in the end.