Elevated Safety Play Benefited Corners in 2019

Green Bay's secondary finally found cohesion in 2019, and it showed on the field. 

This past season, Green Bay’s secondary experienced something it had been missing for a while: consistency. Part of that of course was from Kevin King staying healthy and available, but the corners also benefited from the increased production from the safety unit in free agent acquisition Adrian Amos and first-round draft pick Darnell Savage. 

In 2018, the Packers relied on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for seven games, Kentrell Brice for 14 games, Josh Jones entered the fray for a few games, and even veteran corner Tramon Williams slid into a safety slot to help the back end of the defense. Now let’s add the other safeties in the room in 2018, Ibraheim Campbell, Eddie Pleasant, Jermaine Whitehead, Raven Greene, Natrell Jamerson, and Will Redmond. The secondary became an injury-riddled revolving door and the defense lacked cohesion.

In 2019, with the consistency of Amos and Savage roaming the back end, the cornerback tandem of King and Jaire Alexander made strides, elevating their play alongside Williams and Chandon Sullivan. 

The numbers tell the story here. While King only played in six games in 2018 so his sample size is small, he went from allowing a rating in pass coverage of 94.3 in 2018 to 84.6 in 2019. For Alexander, who played in 99% of defensive snaps in 2019, his numbers improved dramatically, too. 

In 2018, Alexander allowed a completion percentage of 64.8% and a rating of 100.0 in pass coverage. In 2019, his completion percentage dropped to 53.6% and his rating dropped to 85.8. That’s a significant improvement from year one to year two. 

When the safeties play well, it naturally elevates the play in the entire secondary. Why? Because the corners (and defensive coordinator) can trust the safeties in coverage. Think about the difference between man and zone. In man, King and Alexander blanket their receivers and stick with them for the duration of the play. Whatever happens, the result is on them. In zone, it’s possible the corner will pass off the receiver to a safety (or inside linebacker, but that’s an article for a different day). If the safety can’t successfully take the coverage, it likely results in a big play in the middle of the field.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine plays a significant amount of nickel and dime, meaning he can have as many as six defensive backs on the field at a time. In 2019, Amos played 100% of snaps on defense. That was one spot that was locked in for the duration of the season that Pettine never had to worry about. In 2018, Brice played the most snaps at safety for the defense at 61%. 

The beauty of this secondary is that it’s growing as a unit. In Amos’ first season with the Packers, he allowed a completion percentage of 70.6% with a pass rating of 85.5. In Savage’s 14 regular season games, he allowed a completion percentage of 56.7% with a pass rating of 71.1. For comparison’s sake, Brice allowed a completion percentage of 78.1% in 2018 with a pass rating of 155.5 when targeted. 

What’s more, the interception numbers skyrocketed, too this past season. In 2018 the Packers only had seven interceptions as a team. In 2019, that number more than doubled and Green Bay tied for third in the NFL with 17. 

This is a young group that’s finally found some cohesion in the secondary. Expect the numbers to improve again when Savage takes that next step going into his second season. And regardless of what happens with King in the offseason, whether he’s re-signed in Green Bay or tests free agency, keep an eye on Sullivan. His sample size is small, but he was targeted 31 times in 2019 and allowed only 11 completions for a percentage of 35.5%. He also only allowed a pass rating of 34.3 when targeted. 

There’s lots to like from this secondary heading into 2020, especially now that the cornerbacks have two stable playmakers at safety to rely on. 



Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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5 points

Comments (6)

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gkarl's picture

July 28, 2020 at 12:52 pm

The additions of Amos and Savage no doubt had a positive impact on the secondary and the passing ratings. It also didn't hurt having a much improved pass rush, thanks to the Smith Bros and company. It's easy to look for continued improvement for the defense heading into this season with regard to coverage and rush.......now if we can somehow slow down the rush a little better we'll have a top ten defense.

3 points
PatrickGB's picture

July 28, 2020 at 01:16 pm

Agree. The addition of the Smiths probably helped speed up the throw and helped the secondary. So it was not just safety play that helped.

1 points
mbpacker's picture

July 28, 2020 at 03:56 pm

It takes a village!

3 points
Archie's picture

July 29, 2020 at 08:15 am

Yes, given our vastly improved pass rush and coverage in the secondary, it is no wonder teams have decided to attack us with the run game.

Hard to see where we upgraded our personnel to make a difference vs rush unless it will be through improved coaching i.e., existing players taught how to play the run better or scheme changes. That will be the key to how far the defense can rise this year. Sure wish we had picked up a big run-stopper in FA or draft. They seem to be a dime a dozen but we don't seem too interested in such types. Could be a fatal flaw.

0 points
Stroh's picture

July 29, 2020 at 10:35 pm

Teams didn't really attack us by running. San Fran basically did what they do. They run the ball and the Packers didn't stop them, so they kept running. One or 2 other teams had some success but they didn't keep running it like SF.

It is a olan of Pettine to stop passing games since the NFL is now largely a passing league. The Packers problems against the run were a direct result of the defenses desire to pressure the QB. Gap discipline was not emphasized in order to create pressure. Pass rushers basically rushed the QB on every down. This year Pettine will emphasize more gap discipline but the pass rushers will then have to hesitate to maintain gaps before rushing. That can significantly slow the pass rush. It comes down to which you emphasizebut then also accepting that the other will suffer. Make the decision which you want to put the priority on.

A big run stuffer doesn't fit the scheme anymore. This isn't Capers scheme.

1 points
Handsback's picture

July 29, 2020 at 08:44 am

This year, which may or may not happen, should see the Packers secondary show their teeth. They are all very talented and with another year under the belt for Savage and Sullivan this could be a major strength for the team. Add the pass rush and somehow stop the run...top 10 defense. Maybe even top 5 if they stop the run.

2 points