Thursday Thoughts: Run Defense

If you told me 10 days ago that an NFL head coach would be fired because he sent racist, misogynistic, and homophobic emails, the Raiders’ Jon Gruden would’ve been one of my top three guesses. And as the news broke late Monday night, I could only imagine how badly Jags’ owner Shahid Khan is praying that somebody goes through Urban Meyer’s emails. Anyway, here are three Packers-related thoughts that ran through my mind recently:

1) Za’Darius Smith’s pass-rushing skills are really missed, but the run defense is better without the injured All-Pro. Green Bay gave up 117 yards per game on the ground in 2019 and 2020. The number is down to 102 yards this season, and that’s a little misleading because QBs Jameis Winston (New Orleans) and Jared Goff (Detroit) scrambled for 83 yards. But forget the stats; all you need are two functioning eyes to see what’s different. While new defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s scheme and the signing of free agent De’Vondre Campbell have certainly helped, the biggest reason for the improvement is Rashan Gary and Preston Smith placing as high a priority on stopping the run as they do on getting sacks. That was simply never the case with Za’Darius Smith, especially in 2020.

2) With Jaire Alexander on IR and Kevin King hurt yet again, it might be time to at least think about giving free safety Darnell Savage a look at cornerback. He hasn’t played the position since college, but he certainly has the skill set required to do the job. The former Maryland star ran 4.3 at the Combine, and only Alexander transitions more fluidly. This isn’t to suggest the switch would be seamless, but considering the highly unappealing options (Isaac Yiadom and Rasul Douglas), it might be worth a shot. While No. 1 pick Eric Stokes gets better every week, he’s still a rookie who’s going to deal with ups and downs, and Chandon Sullivan has been just a guy the past two-plus seasons. Of course, moving Savage would also mean starting either Henry Black or Vernon Scott at safety. There’s no ideal way to go about solving this ongoing problem, so getting creative might be the best possible solution.

3) It’s still early, but Packers fans have every right to say “I told you so” when it comes to coach Matt LaFleur’s decision to hire Maurice Drayton as special teams coordinator. Things are no better today than they were a year ago at this time. Drayton was the assistant to Shawn Mennenga, who was fired last January after a pair of awful seasons. While LaFleur spoke about how Drayton would now be able to implement his own unique ideas, dubious fans remembered former coach Mike McCarthy saying the exact same thing when he promoted Shawn Slocum in 2009 and Ron Zook in 2015. It sure as heck didn’t work back then, and at least through five games, it ain’t working now.

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Packers Notes is the creation of Michael Rodney, who has been writing about the Green Bay Packers for over 30 years. His first blog, Packer Update, hit the internet in 2004. Before becoming a public educator, Rodney worked as a journalist for a couple of newspapers in his home state of New Jersey and covered the Philadelphia Eagles for WTXF-TV. He's had numerous articles on the Packers published, and he's been featured on both television and radio over the years.
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