Next Four Games Will Be a Real Test for the Packers Defense

The Green Bay Packers are off to a 2-0 start this season with two convincing wins over Minnesota and Detroit. These two division rivals are both 0-2 and do not look like world beaters. But over the next four games, the Packers as a team and the Green Bay defense in particular will face a much bigger test.

The Packers next four games are against the Saints in New Orleans, at home against the Falcons and then at Tampa Bay and at Houston. That means the next four quarterbacks the Packers face will be Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson. All of them have been considered among the better signal callers in the league, three of them have been to Super Bowls, two of them have won Super Bowls and all of them have repeatedly led their respective teams to the playoffs.

Not to put down Kirk Cousins or Matthew Stafford, but for the next four weeks, the Packers defense will be facing a different caliber of quarterback. Brady is a three time NFL MVP, a six time Super Bowl champ and has been named to the Pro Bowl 14 times.

Brees has won a Super Bowl and been named to 13 Pro Bowls and was twice named the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Ryan led the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance, was named league MVP in 2016 and has been selected to four Pro Bowls.

Watson is the youngest of the group and has already been named to two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons in the league while leading the Texans to the playoffs twice.

Last year, the Packers defense did not face many elite quarterbacks. When they played the Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes was injured. In the playoffs, the Packers faced Russell Wilson and he was probably the only elite quarterback the team faced all year.

This year, the Packers have faced Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, two good but not elite quarterbacks who are certainly capable of leading their teams to winning seasons but have never been considered among the game’s best.

So far, the Packers defense has been solid if not spectacular. They are ranked 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game with 111.5. They are also 13th against the pass with 233 yards allowed per game and 10th overall in yards allowed with 344.5 per game.

The defense has also been opportunistic and productive, scoring points on a safety in the season opener in Minnesota and producing a pick-six in Week 2 when Chandon Sullivan intercepted Stafford and returned it seven yards for a key touchdown.

The Saints offense is not off to a great start, but unfortunately, experts and fans alike have been critical of Brees for not throwing the ball downfield. How the future Hall of Famer will react to the criticism remains to be seen but the Packers certainly don’t want him to be inspired to prove his critics wrong.

The Saints were without record-setting wide receiver Michael Thomas last Monday night against the Raiders. His status for the Packers on Sunday night is still up in the air. The Saints will have all-purpose running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook.

The Packers defense has given up points on the first drive of the game in both contests and that is something the team needs to address. But they have also made adjustments and slowed down both the Vikings and the Lions in the second quarter of both games.

The Vikings were held to 10 points over the first three quarters in the season opener. Only after the Packers led 29-10 did Minnesota score three more touchdowns to reach 34 points for the game.

Against Detroit, the defense allowed the Lions to score touchdowns on their first two drives of the game to take a 14-3 lead but then only allowed seven more points over the last three quarters of the contest.

“Our defense, it didn’t start the way we wanted but certainly they answered the bell, they stepped up,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the win over the Lions. “I think there was a lot of great adjustments made by our coaching staff and our players went out and executed it. That’s what needs to happen.”

Over the next four weeks, the Packers defense will have to show they can do some of the things they struggled with last season. The Green Bay run defense will have to slow down Kamara, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette and David Johnson over the next four games. They may have to do that without the services of their best defensive lineman as Kenny Clark’s status for Sunday and beyond is still uncertain.

When opposing teams pass, the defense has to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and they have to show they can shut down talented tight ends, something that was a problem for the Packers throughout 2019 even in games they won. We will see exactly what players like Christian Kirksey, Krys Barnes, Raven Greene, Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke can do against better competition.

These next four games will be a litmus test for the defense. Facing four dangerous offenses with better quarterbacks than the team saw last season will be a challenge. It will tell us whether Mike Pettine’s stop the pass first, bend but don’t break strategy can be effective against offenses that have more weapons than those they faced last year and earlier in the season.

At the end of these four games, we should have a much better idea about exactly how good this defense can be.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (40)

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Bearmeat's picture

September 24, 2020 at 12:16 pm

It's reasonable to expect the Packers pass defense to play well down the stretch against anyone. We have 2 very good CBs, and what (should be) a very good safety tandem. The safeties in particular haven't played well during the first two games.

You also have to give credit where it's due: Cousins pads stats in the 4th Q of not-close games. Always has. And Stafford is a beast.

But the run defense? Eesh. I think we're in real trouble there. Even with Clark. From Pettine prioritizing dime defense, to literally there being one good DL and a bag of balls, we just don't have the personnel. This is both a GM and a coaching fault.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 12:27 pm

The run defense is definitely still a question mark. In the first two games, it really didn't matter once the Pack took a big lead and the opposition had to pass. I honestly think that's part of the strategy and it will work against most teams. We shall see if they look better over the course of the season. I hope Keke steps up and gives us at least one lineman to compliment Clark.

As for the safeties, yeah, they did not play very well in the first two games and I'm still unsure about Kirksey so far.

Thanks for the comment, Bearmeat, always good to hear from you.

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egbertsouse's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:36 pm

I don't like the safety play at all. They seem like finesse guys instead of bangers like you see in Seattle, Pittsburgh, or NO. Well at least finesse guys should be good cover guys, right? Meh, not so far.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:29 pm

It's been a rough start for Amos and Savage this year. Hopefully they get it straightened out. Amos is an established vet and I think he'll return to form. Let's see. Thanks for the comment, egbertsouse.

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fish's picture

September 24, 2020 at 08:30 pm

I'm not worried about the safeties. MLF sets up the game strategy to have the best chance of winning and it has worked quite well. My hunch is that the safeties have played a little soft to help prevent the big YAC plays, and wait until the crappy teams ... oops... the Vikings and Lions ... made mistakes. It has worked quite well both times.

This week I wouldn't be surprised to see Greene (probably) in there quite a bit to shadow Kamara and make Brees find other guys.

After a couple teams are out of playoff contention (week 5 or 6?), I'd expect a Howard Green type to be acquired if we don't get Snacks. Around that time Martin will be back and the defense will be quite good.

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Coldworld's picture

September 24, 2020 at 05:41 pm

Well put Bear. Stafford is a good QB burdened by who he plays for. Brees and Brady will be Hall if Famers, but are they at that level now?

This year it seems like the irony is that the more the opposing QB is the lynchpin, the better it plays to the strength of our D, at least if the QB is not a dual threat type. The less they run at us, the better based on the two games played so far.

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flackcatcher's picture

September 25, 2020 at 06:43 pm

..."being one good DL and a bag of balls".... heh heh heh heh heh heh ..... :-)

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ricky's picture

September 24, 2020 at 12:22 pm

Take a look at the teams they're facing, and 3-1 seems very possible. Brees is 41 and beginning to show it; Brady even more at 43. Past awards are nice, but no one beats Father Time. "Matty Ice" melts under pressure. And Watson is a very good QB who had his best receiver traded for a pittance. Rodgers, on the other hand, seems like he's been revived, and is becoming that "bad man" we haven't seen for a few years. Whether it's familiarity with the offense, a new found sense of contentment, or the drafting of his heir apparent, he would be an odds on favorite for MVP if this wasn't Russell Wilson's year to lose.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 01:35 pm

Father Time remains undefeated, no doubt. I love the way Rodgers looks this year. Whether he or Wilson or somebody else wins MVP, it's still early, but to have A-Rod in the discussion is a great sign. Thanks for the comment, Ricky.

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CAG123's picture

September 24, 2020 at 01:10 pm

I’m getting that feeling I got before the Eagles game last year both situations pretty similar SB winning QBs off to shaky starts against a suspect Packers run def. Hopefully the boys are prepared

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:41 pm

I hope so, CAG123. We still could have won that Eagles game and almost did. Beating the Saints could be huge for home field in the playoffs but let's not get ahead of ourselves. This will be a big test. Thanks for commenting.

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cheesehead1's picture

September 24, 2020 at 01:16 pm

A lot of hype about Kirksey this summer, but I think many people were expecting more from him. Nothing stands out, hope he makes his presence felt this week and beyond. Wish we could either sign or trade for a quality run stuffer, this D is still very unpredictable IMO.

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Bearmeat's picture

September 24, 2020 at 01:31 pm

I'd say he's been about equal to what Blake did last year, maybe a touch faster. And compared to the $$$ Blake got, I'll take Christian any day of the week. Too bad about Martin getting hurt...

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:44 pm

Losing Martin was a tough thing although I'm sure he also would have made his share of rookie mistakes. I healthy Raven Greene may also make a difference. He didn't play in Week 1 and barely played last week.

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jannes bjornson's picture

September 24, 2020 at 07:25 pm

Barnes has replaced the safety as the other ILB.

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Coldworld's picture

September 24, 2020 at 07:41 pm

Not true. Greene was injured. He and Redmond then split hybrid role last week. Green taking about 2/3 of the snaps.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 24, 2020 at 07:44 pm

The 30 PFF grade that PFF gives Kirksey shows that there is a disconnect between fans view of Kirksey and PFF's. I didn't know grades could be that low.

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egbertsouse's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:31 pm

I feel the same way about Kirksey. I watched him during the Minny game and wasn't impressed, he didn't seem like an upgrade over Martinez. I did not watch him at all during the Detroit game though Jersey Al had some good things to say about his play.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:45 pm

Right now, he's a capable player but nothing spectacular through two games. Obviously, that's a small sample size. Hopefully he gets more comfortable and his play can pick up a bit.

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Coldworld's picture

September 24, 2020 at 05:44 pm

Being the main ILB behind this front over the first two games would make any ILB look worse.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:43 pm

The D is definitely not a certainty. I like what see from Gary and Sullivan so far this year, but Kirksey hasn't been exceptional. I think he and Barnes will have bigger roles this week against New Orleans trying to slow down Kamara. Hoping for better as the season progresses. Thanks for commenting, cheesehead1.

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Lare's picture

September 24, 2020 at 01:41 pm

The problem with the Packers DL (IMO) is that after Clark they really don't have much bulk. Assuming it's about average in the NFL, the Packers OL averages about 310 lbs depending on who's playing. If that's the case, then Keke (at 288) is giving up around 20 lbs to whoever he's playing against. Lowry (at 296) is giving up about 10 lbs and Lancaster (at 313) is fairly equal. So the Packers DL isn't going to overpower anyone and is forced to win with scheme, stunts, blitzes or superior athleticism to win their individual battles across the line.

As we've seen so far this year, the best thing for the Packers defense is having the Packers offense on the field scoring a lot of points.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:47 pm

There is a size issue and when we use two DLs, 3 OLBs and one ILB, it's even more pronounced. I think Pettine is willing to give that up most of the time and if we score enough points, the opposition has to be one dimensional. I would like to see a Gilbert Brown type at some point, but that was a very different system. Thanks for the comment, Lare.

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Coldworld's picture

September 24, 2020 at 05:53 pm

Add to that the fact that Lancaster is a plug, not a disruptive type. He is fine spelling Clark or along side him, but that lack of threat makes it harder for the DE types. Considering Keke is a neophyte, Adams the invisible man and Lowry a disappointment, allowing the opponents to focus on them just compounds matters.

A better DE (for example KeKe improving) may help, but it’s asking someone to swim upstream. The key is the ability and willingness to take on offensive lines in the middle. We need a second big man who offers more even when Clark comes back. I don’t think we are going to find one at this point (and I think at this point Snacks isn’t one). I hoped Mack might hold a little hope, but apparently not.

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jannes bjornson's picture

September 24, 2020 at 07:31 pm

The Pack has little depth for the rotation. Seems as if Gutedkunst went with Pettine's philosophy, but a DT/DE needed to be brought in this year. Keke can be a three tech next to Clark, but the retention of Montraviuos is a joke.

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splitpea1's picture

September 24, 2020 at 05:04 pm

In looking at some of the other rosters in the NFL, the Packers' DL seems to be in line weight-wise, so the strength, athleticism, and experience (or combination thereof) seems to be lacking in most cases. You had to know someone was going to bring up Aaron Donald, who is listed at a svelte 280 lbs. Obviously players like that are few and far between, but I would hope the Packers are ready to spend some high draft capital on at least one quality prospect who doesn't take three years to develop.

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Lphill's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:06 pm

The biggest challenge will be Watson , by not having a beast inside linebacker that can cover sideline to sideline this will be a very unpleasant game .

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Demon's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:32 pm

If only we would sign CM3 right LP? Beast issue solved! LMAO

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:48 pm

Pretty sure that ship has sailed, Demon. LOL. Thanks for commenting.

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Lphill's picture

September 24, 2020 at 07:34 pm

You are right we can always put in our third round pick Burks .

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:56 pm

O'Brian undoes whatever Watson does.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:49 pm

Yeah, that is an issue for the Texans, no doubt. Thanks for commenting, jeremyjjbrown.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:47 pm

It will be a challenge. I wonder if Kirksey is used to shadow him in the pocket. Then I wonder if he's equal to the task. A few games down the road, but a thought. Thanks for the comment, Lphill.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:38 pm

I view the Litmus test in the opposite light. The Packers have put the rest of the NFL on notice. Try to stop our offense and a red hot Aaron Rodgers. We're dominating in the run and the pass. Sure the defense can't stop the run but our offense can't be stopped either. Which makes opposing offenses forced to pass.

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GilMartin's picture

September 24, 2020 at 03:54 pm

That's definitely part of the Pettine strategy and the Packers strategy. Give the opposition the run and then make them one dimensional when they fall behind. It's a little tougher to execute against good teams who can score more and keep up better. Hope Sunday night goes well. Thanks for the comment, JonathanSpader.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

September 24, 2020 at 02:55 pm

Let them come...

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Minniman's picture

September 24, 2020 at 04:17 pm

Gil. These 4 games may well decide who gets Re-signed and who not. On paper, and with only 2 games to evaluate, it looks like the Packers have a relatively soft schedule this year - with their hardest games being the coming 4. At the end of this stretch they will know if they are contenders or pretenders, and which of these position groups can tolerate shuffling

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MarkinMadison's picture

September 24, 2020 at 04:55 pm

I heard a comment on the radio the other day: these last two games are the worst that Drew Brees has put on tape in his career. Brady has thrown 3 TDs to 3 INTs this year, against the1-1 Brees-led Saints, and the 0-2 Panthers. As phenomenal as these two have been over the years it is not clear to me that they represent a real test right now.

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arizonayahoo07@gmail.com's picture

September 24, 2020 at 06:12 pm

R.Gary along with Clark and The Smith Bros.. With a improved(?) Linebacker crew, and D-backs and safeties. We have reason to be optimistic.. The offense should be able time put up points, and control the clock.. i have not seen many penalties. And Aaron is hungry again for a SB win.

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Karyfp's picture

September 25, 2020 at 08:27 am

https://www.litreview.net/ Start early. The earlier you start looking, the better options you have. Even though our experts can help you when you’re searching last minute, it’s best to do the search beforehand so you can ensure you not hastily choosing something wrong for you.

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