Green and Bold: Nowhere to Run

One of the most promising trends to emerge from the young 2016 season has been how stout the Packers have been against the run.  No one would have predicted it a few  months ago, but through the first quarter of the season, it hasn't been the St. Louis Rams or the New York Jets but the Green Bay Packers who have boasted the NFL's strongest defensive front.  But do you realize just how good the Packers have been in run defense so far this season—or how consistent?

One of the most promising trends to emerge from the young 2016 season has been how stout the Packers have been against the run. 

No one would have predicted it a few months ago, but through the first quarter of the season, it hasn't been the St. Louis Rams or the New York Jets but the Green Bay Packers who have boasted the NFL's strongest defensive front. 

But do you realize just how good the Packers have been in run defense so far this season—or how consistent?

With this small a sample size—even smaller for the Packers, with the Week 4 bye—it becomes dangerously easy to identify patterns in stats that are largely skewed by one performance.

For example, the Packers are allowing on average 42.7 rushing yards per game. That number could potentially be the result of one strong showing against a weak rushing offense and two underwhelming performances in the other games, but that's not the case.

The Packers have allowed the following rushing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, and explosive runs over their first three games:

Game Rush Yards Allowed Yards/ Attempt Allowed Rushing TDs Allowed Longest Carry Allowed
Week 1 @ Jaguars 48 1.8 1 7 yards
Week 2 @ Vikings 30 1.4 0 12 yards
Week 3 vs. Lions 50 2.2 0 9 yards

The Packers didn't just shut down T.J. Yeldon in Week 1. They also shut down Adrian Peterson in Week 2 (19 yards!) and Theo Riddick in Week 3. They've held every opponent they've faced so far this season to 50 or fewer rushing yards, and rank at or near the top of the league in run defense categories across the board.

A selected few, via TeamRankings.com:

Category Season Average Rank
Rushing Yards/Game Allowed 42.7 1st
Rushing Yards/Attempt Allowed 1.8 1st
Rushing 1st Downs/Game Allowed 3.3 2nd
Rushing TDs/Game Allowed 0.3 5th

The Packers' success against the run has been a team effort, to be sure, but individual players have shone in their efforts.

Nick Perry and Mike Daniels are tied for the fourth-most tackles for loss in the league among all defensive players, with four each. Many of those tackles for loss have resulted in negative rushing totals for ballcarriers and players taking the ball out of the backfield, or have come in crucial situations. Like, for instance, when Daniels stuffed Detroit rusher Dwayne Washington for a one-yard loss on 3rd-and-goal from the Packers' own 1-yard line. 

Football Outsiders ranks the Packers as the league's second-best rushing defense, with a DVOA of -42.9%, just behind the Baltimore Ravens.

Also per Football Outsiders, the Packers have forced the most negative rushing plays, with 19. 

It's all the more incredible that the Packers have started out so strongly behind a rotating carousel at nose tackle that now includes rookie Kenny Clark and a rookie, Blake Martinez, quarterbacking the defense at inside linebacker. He and second-year player Jake Ryan have finally fortified the leaky middle that has plagued the Packers since 2013.  

I know what you're thinking. The Packers also got off to a strong start against the run last season, and look how well that turned out. They finished the season 22nd overall. 

But the surprisingly solid play from Martinez and Ryan, who have 18 and 22 tackles on the season already, respectively, is an insurance policy for the Packers against the run. Add in a rotation including Daniels, Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel, who returns from suspension in Week 5, and help from the outside linebackers (especially Perry and Datone Jones) and safeties, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers has any number of bodies he can use to attack the ballcarrier. 

We've seen the Packers, in their same subpackage-heavy 3-4 scheme, struggle mightily against the run in recent years, so it's not necessarily that they've made changes schematically that have yielded such positive results. More likely, Green Bay finally boasts the right combination of players and skills, with leadership by Daniels and contributions from young talent like Martinez, and it's meshing together the way it should on the field. 

Now the Packers must increase that sample size without sacrificing the level of their play. 

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Comments (26)

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Nick Perry's picture

October 05, 2016 at 06:43 am

It's been a pleasant surprise that's for sure. If you look at the Minnesota game and take away one run by Asiata for 12 yards the Packers allowed 18 yards on the other 21 carries. That's an average of NEGATIVE yardage on those 21 other carries which is pretty darn impressive. Throw in Guion was injured during the game and Pennel has yet to play, well that's a reason to be optimistic they can keep it up. Clark has been pretty solid so far in the reps he's gotten and seems to be holding his own. If they hold the Cowboys down week 6, I'd be more than optimistic, I'd be convinced they can do it all season. Now if the secondary just catches up, the Packers would actually have a defense that plays well in January.

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RCPackerFan's picture

October 05, 2016 at 06:53 am

A couple of things that will help the secondary out is getting Mathews back. Getting a faster rush will force QB's to have to get the ball out faster. Mathews is our best pass rusher and can force QB's into mistakes.

The other thing for the secondary is to actually catch the interceptions they have hit their hands. They dropped 3 interceptions against the Lions. It didn't really hurt them against the Lions but there are going to be games in which they have to make those plays to change the games.

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Nick Perry's picture

October 05, 2016 at 07:34 am

OMG how right you are RC. The Packers HAVE to hang onto those balls they have a chance to pick off. It seems every week we're talking about a play, or 2 or 3 the Packers could / should have had the pick.

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dobber's picture

October 05, 2016 at 08:51 am

"the Packers allowed 18 yards on the other 21 carries. That's an average of NEGATIVE yardage on those 21 other carries which is pretty darn impressive."

OK...I'm good at math. I don't see how that math works to give a negative average.

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TommyG's picture

October 06, 2016 at 03:29 am

it is still positive yardage but less than a yard per carry. Pretty darn impressive anyway.

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Nick Perry's picture

October 06, 2016 at 06:51 am

Thanks Tommy, that's what I meant...it was like 0.857 yards a carry and that's what i meant. Straight "Brain Fart"..

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Nick Perry's picture

October 06, 2016 at 06:50 am

Never mind, it was early in the Morning here in Los Angeles. I'm not even going to try and explain....LOL... Meant under a yard and brain couldn't relay that to my comment I guess...

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RCPackerFan's picture

October 05, 2016 at 06:48 am

The run defense has been outstanding so far. What is even better is that they have accomplished this mostly using 2 DL.
Daniels has been one of the best DL in the league. Guion was playing really, really well until he got hurt and Clark really has played really well. Also when they have brought in the reserves, they have performed well also.

The run defense has started with the DL, but Perry has been a force. And on the other side Jones has played well. While Mathews isn't the stout run defender that Perry is, he is always chasing down plays.
The ILB's have been really good as well. Not only have they been good against the run, they have been really good on defending the RB's coming out of the backfield in the passing game. Martinez is a definite upgrade from our former ILB's in that area.

While the Run defense has been amazing, it still is early and there is a lot of games left, which would be wise to not get overly excited about it yet. But the first 3 games have been really really good.

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Bohj's picture

October 05, 2016 at 09:30 pm

I'll piggy back this comment RC. So far Martinez and Ryan have combined for 40 tackles. Over half of those have been considered "stops" where they were tackled for no gain or less yards than needed to get a first down. To put that in perspective, last year after three games, Claymaker and Palmer had only 26 tackles total. The fact that these guys are young and producing so much run support already....the sky is the limit moving forward. Its absolutely amazing to see the upgrade at this position. Especially given all the scrutiny in the offseason at ILB. Let's just hope they can keep that level of intensity.
Another side note: Perry leads the team in "stops" with 10.

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Donster's picture

October 05, 2016 at 06:52 am

Run defense has looked good. However the opposing offense have abandoned the run because they can pass through this defense like a knife through butter. 307 yds per game? Why bother running? If the Giants carve up the Pack Sunday night, forget about the Pack getting far or even into the playoffs. Makes me sick to see how this defense has under-performed the past number of years. Capers should have been replaced years ago. He can't adjust on the fly. Every team knows what GB is going to play on defense, as they have seen it all before. But in his defense, he keeps getting stuck with kids that have little to no NFL experience.

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Savage57's picture

October 05, 2016 at 07:55 am

Must be tough viewing the world through those colored glasses.

You're like one of those guys living in a golden age and all they can do is bitch about how everything looks yellow.

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Donster's picture

October 05, 2016 at 08:15 am

Congratulations Savage57! You are the first arsehole I have encountered today! So nice to get that out of the way so early in the morning.

I shouldn't be surprised that no matter what your opinion might be on any forum, somebody is going to do whatever he/she can do to grind it into the ground.

So sorry that you can't be more tolerant of other peoples opinions. But I guess you must be the worlds most perfect human being.

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dobber's picture

October 05, 2016 at 09:12 am

"However the opposing offense have abandoned the run because they can pass through this defense like a knife through butter."

This isn't entirely correct. If you look at the plays from scrimmage and the fraction of run plays each team has called against the Packers so far, Detroit and Jacksonville actually ran the ball MORE against the Packers than they have in their other games. Jacksonville called run on approximately 41% (vs. ~34% on the season) while Detroit called run on 36% of its plays (vs. ~33.5% on the season). Minnesota was the only team that called more pass plays (42% vs. 45% on the season), but not far out of whack with their other games.

In all, the pass/run distribution in this limited sample size (which is the 2016 season) doesn't support the assertion that teams are abandoning the run against the Packers any more than they are against anyone else.

YAY DATA!!!

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Oppy's picture

October 05, 2016 at 06:39 pm

Yup. This.

Besides, Yards per Carry is Yards Per Carry. We're not talking about the Packers run D being the best in the league in terms of net yardage. (although it is.)

It's not like the Packers only allowed 128 yards net rushing, but the YPC is 4.6... It's the Packers have only allowed 128 yards net rushing, and the YPC is one-point-freakin-eight.

Teams just haven't been able to run on the Packers front 7.

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carusotrap's picture

October 05, 2016 at 07:42 am

So what? When you're giving up 800 yards - seems like it - a game. It would be nice if we could stop both for once.

(*sips first coffee of the day*)

Never mind. The run D really has been pretty fantastic.

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chugwater's picture

October 05, 2016 at 08:50 am

I find it amusing how the recent preseason concerns have largely disappeared once the season got underway. In 2014 we worried about the O line. Turns out it was one of our strengths that year. In 2015 it was getting off to a fast start due to the tough SEP-OCT schedule. We started 6-0, but the last half of the year turned out to be tougher than anticipated.

This year we worried about D line with rookie Clark and the suspensions. Also had big question marks around the inside LBs. No one ever thought our secondary would be the weak link in the chain so far, and that the front seven would be outstanding.

I'm still pretty optimistic we will improve in the secondary. Too much talent back there to be ineffective once the learning curve flattens out.

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Since '61's picture

October 05, 2016 at 09:12 am

Our run defense has been very effective but we have yet to play against a very good offensive line. Our run defense will get a serious test against the Cowboys OL in 2 weeks. Hopefully by then we will have Guion and Pennel back. Normally a stout run defense helps the pass defense but it's been the opposite for the Packers. Our pass defense, especially our coverage, has been bad. We have been getting sacks (3.3 per game) and pressure through each game but we give up too many 3rd and longs due to poor coverage and some missed tackles. I don't know if or when Shields is coming back or if he should, but something needs to be done to improve the play of our CBs by this Sunday or Eli will have a field day against our secondary. Fortunately, the Giant's defense has not been very good either so far this season. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

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Tundraboy's picture

October 05, 2016 at 09:21 am

Shhhhhhh

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rdent's picture

October 05, 2016 at 10:50 am

We will all see on Sunday night if the pass D got it's act together,NY has 3 formidable WR's although it looks like Beckham Jr.has already had a meltdown but the Giants have put some losses on GB in some crucial games

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pacman's picture

October 05, 2016 at 11:45 am

Top of the chart in run defense - great! Almost the bottom in pass defense - bad!. Averages to a mediocre defense that will only get worse as teams focus on the pass. Superbowl teams can't have a bottom ranked pass or run defense. Anybody have a guess at what the Giants game plan will be? It will be a good test to see if MM/Capers can motivate the players they have and/or come up with something.

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al bundy's picture

October 05, 2016 at 01:04 pm

I think the run d is just so so because teams are living off the pass against the Packers and not needing or relying on the run that much. The few attemps at running they do is just to keep the D honest. Keep the linebackers thinking run and passing into the middle instead.
Manning will love this D versus what he just saw in Minny. That's a defense.

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dobber's picture

October 05, 2016 at 03:15 pm

"Manning will love this D versus what he just saw in Minny."

How much did he love the crappy New Orleans defense he saw at home a couple weeks ago--that can stop no one--and only put 9 points on?

This Giants offense has the potential to explode, but they've got problems with their OL and at RB, and they turn the ball over. They spent a big piece of that Vikings game in max protection, which limits what their WR can do. They're only scoring about 18 ppg at this point with all that firepower at WR. Sure, they could come out on Sunday night and hang 50 points on the Packers, but they haven't shown that to be in their character. If the Packers come out and show that what they did against Detroit is going to be their identity for the remainder of the season, they'll either be in a high-scoring affair with the Giants or they'll win going away.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

October 05, 2016 at 01:37 pm

Instead of jumping to conclusions you might want to check for teams who can not run the ball because you will find the two worst teams running the ball in the NFL are two of the three team we played, and they have played a quarter season.

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dobber's picture

October 05, 2016 at 03:03 pm

True, but we're on to chicken/egg arguments now.

Of the three teams the Packers have played, Detroit has seen the weakest slate of run defenses (Ind (18th), GB (1st), Chi (26th), and Ten (20)) and they rank 20th overall running the ball. But the Vikings have played GB, the Giants (9th), Ten, and Car (10th), and the Jags have played GB, Ind, SD (7th), and Baltimore (5th). So even though Jax and MIn are at the bottom of the list, they haven't--by and large--been playing crappy run defenses.

Do I think the Packer ranking has benefitted by playing teams that haven't run the ball well? Probably, yes. Do they look like they don't run the ball well because those teams have played good run D's...possibly, yes. Someone is going to run the ball down the Packers throats yet, sure. But let's not discount what's happened in this limited sample size: they've played 2 of 3 on the road and they've executed the run D well enough to rank first...and not by a little bit.

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Bohj's picture

October 05, 2016 at 03:41 pm

For everyone down on our secondary play, I urge you to read this article I found:
http://www.nj.com/jets/index.ssf/2014/05/nfl_draft_2014_why_cornerbacks_...
Keep in mind that Shields being out is having a trickle effect for our young corners. Not to mention, neither of our corners have been corners very long. Randall was a basketball player turned Safety in college. Rollins was a basketball player and played ONE YEAR of CB at a MAC school. Can we please just let these guys develope? It's not their fault they're thrown into the fire so early.

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NMPF's picture

October 06, 2016 at 09:57 am

If the O can get a lead and the run D doing it's job it will cause opposing teams to be 1 dimensional. The problem has been 6 or 7 dropped INT'S by the backend of the defense. Every game thus far the DB/S have given opposing offenses too many 2nd chances after muffing pretty routine INT.

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