Defensive coordinator Joe Barry was hired by the Green Bay Packers under the premise that he would implement a similar system to what Brandon Staley installed with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. And that’s what he started to do last season. Two-high safety looks were predominant, using lighter boxes in comparison to predecessor Mike Pettine.
Now, as the system matures and evolves, a decisive part of the process is to enable Barry personnel-wise to adjust the defense to what he wants to run. If the idea is to use lighter boxes and load up the coverage on the back end, it’s imperative to have a great defensive line in place to protect the linebackers.
As the Vic Fangio-inspired system ties its front to the two-high shells, there are not enough bodies to play a one-gap scheme, where every defensive lineman is responsible for one technique. But it’s also not sustainable to use a two-gap scheme with such a light box. Therefore, coaches implemented what is called the gap-and–half-technique. The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen explained how this logic is applied:
“They attack their primary gap with enough control so that they can ‘fall back’ into their secondary gap. The objective isn’t to make a tackle but force the ball to ‘roll’ outside, which gives defensive backs time to come up in run support from depth. What they don’t want is for vertical seams to open up on the first level and have ball carriers quickly get north and south”, Nguyen wrote.
For a defensive lineman to be effective in this scheme, he needs to be big enough to occupy spaces and fast enough to move between gaps during plays. That’s why Brandon Staley couldn’t repeat in his first year with the Chargers the success he had with the Rams – and why the Chargers invested so much in defensive line reinforcements this offseason.
The Green Bay Packers’ logic is clear. They want to build the best front since Kenny Clark was drafted in 2016. First-round pick Devonte Wyatt is the highest pedigree partner that Clark has ever had. And, if the Packers hit the pick, he will immediately be the best interior defensive lineman to play alongside Clark since Mike Daniels had a fantastic season in 2017, Clark’s second year in the league.
“He can be really good on first and second down, and he’s an inside guy that has some unique traits as a pass rusher”, said Packers defensive line coach and run-game coordinator Jerry Montgomery. “Some things you can’t teach, you just naturally have. He’s got twitch. I’d like to call it awkward movements, some movements he can be out in that other guys can’t be and he can recover from those things. And he’s got a high motor, just a naturally high motor. So, really, really good defensive line traits.”
Wyatt’s high-end talent is impressive, but he’s not the only investment the Packers have made in the defensive line. The team also signed former Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs lineman Jarran Reed. He can be a versatile piece around the line, with capabilities to play both the 3- or 5-technique, and he is 10 pounds heavier than Dean Lowry. Chiefs Wire’s editor Charles Goldman described Reed’s role in Kansas City last season and highlighted his versatility.
“He played a variety of different spots for Kansas City, from 3-tech to 5-tech,” said Goldman. “They liked to use him on different stunts and twists pretty frequently. I think he’ll probably stick to the interior in the Packers’ scheme, likely playing 3-tech opposite Dean Lowry. He could probably play nose tackle in a pinch too if Kenny Clark were to get injured or something.”
Green Bay also drafted monstrous nose tackle Jonathan Ford in the seventh round, another sign of how much they will value size for the unit. Ford weighs 338 pounds, much more than Clark’s 314 pounds and even more than TJ Slaton’s 330 pounds – which indicates that, if Ford can get playing time right away, Clark would get free to be moved around the line as well.
It’s exciting that there are clear signs of what the Packers want to do upfront and how their front strategy looks aligned with Barry’s coverage principles. On paper, the Packers are ready to be a dominant defense. It’s time to put it on the field.
Photo: Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK