Why Edge Rusher Is The Packers’ Biggest Weakness On Defense

The Packers defense has improved quite a bit offseason, and added long-term stability.

The made Jaire Alexander the highest-paid defensive back in the history of the game, bringing back maybe the biggest star on the Packers defense after he missed most of last season. They also re-signed Rasul Douglas, who had a break out year replacing Alexander after getting plucked from the Arizona practice squad. Throw in a year of development for Eric Stokes and they have the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL.

At safety, they picked up the 5th year option for Darnell Savage and still have Adrian Amos (who has more than earned his free agent deal and outshone former teammate Eddie Jackson since arriving in Green Bay).

On the whole, the Packers may have the best secondary in the NFL.

At inside linebacker, the Packers weren’t content to just run with All Pro De’Vondre Campbell. They drafted physical phenom Quay Walker with their first pick in the draft, giving the Packers’ a pair of inside linebackers like they’ve never had before. This will allow Joe Barry to deploy schemes he’s only been able to dream of in the past. Krys Barnes, a former starter, is a more than capable 3rd inside linebacker that can provide depth and round out sub packages.

Defensive line, which has long been the weakness of this team, was transformed virtually overnight. After signing Jarran Reed, the Packers took Devonte Wyatt in the 1st round of the draft, giving Green Bay the most talent they’ve had in a 3 man front in a long time. With the development of TJ Slaton and the steady presence of Dean Lowry to go with one of the most dominant nose tackles in the game in Kenny Clark, this defensive line looks like the kind of group that wreck opposing gameplans all by themselves.

Which brings us to edge rusher.

First, we have Rashan Gary, who is on the verge of superstar status and looks like he has no ceiling. There is no denying he is a critical piece to this defense.

On the other side, Preston Smith is a very good edge rusher with an under-valued ability to hold the edge. However, from season to season, his production has been markedly inconsistent over his career. He’s never had fewer than 8 sacks in an odd-numbered season (like 2021, when he had 9 sacks) and has never had more than 4.5 sacks in an even-numbered season. It’s uncanny. And we’re heading towards an even-numbered season. Maybe this is just randomness, but as he enters his 8th season, there’s certainly an ingrained precedent here.

After that, the Packers have… uh… question marks?

Whitney Mercilus retired after a short, promising stint with the Packers ended in injury. He returned for the playoffs, but, to be honest, that ended even more tragically that his regular season.

Za’Darius Smith, once the biggest dog on this unit, missed most of the season with a back injury, then left for Minnesota.

The Packers are now sorely lacking depth on the edge and only have one bona fide stud.

The defensive line, inside linebackers, and secondary are all stronger units by comparison.

Depth is concerning at the position because – as good as Gary and Smith are, they Packer rotate heavily in this area because of sub packages. Last season, we saw an intentional shift in this area – no edge rusher participated in even 64% of the defensive snaps last year. This is a big difference than 2020, when the Packers leaned heavily on Za’Darius and Preston Smith, who we in for 84% and 79% of the defensive snaps, respectively.

This type of load wore both players down by the end of the season and is not sustainable. Joe Barry moved away from that workload to keep edge rushers fresh, productive, and healthy.

After losing a couple major contributors in the edge rushing group – and not making any notable additions (yet) – edge rusher currently stands as the weakness of this defense.

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