6 Moves the Green Bay Packers Can Make to Improve Defense
Rodgers threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns, Aaron Jones ran for 66 yards and a score, and Davante Adams caught 14 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns as the Packers outgained their NFC North rivals 522-382.
But the positive vibes don't extend to the defense, outside of Jaire Alexander's interception and safety. The unit allowed 24 fourth-quarter points while the Vikings got predictable in catch-up mode, in total surrendering 34 points as Kirk Cousins threw for 259 yards and two scores and Vikings rushers gained 134 yards with two touchdowns for an average of 6.1 yards per carry.
Three Vikings targets caught at least three passes, and Adam Thielen erupted for six catches, 110 yards and two touchdowns. The Mike Pettine-coordinated unit won't always have a complementary offense dropping 40-plus on a Vikings defense that lost multiple starting corners and a star pass-rusher this offseason on top of another pass-rusher, Danielle Hunter, who missed the game with an undisclosed injury.
With apparent weaknesses and injuries (Kenny Clark) already, here are a few ways the Packers can improve the defense quickly.
Sign the Top IDL
Losing Kenny Clark for any amount of time with a groin injury could be a major setback for a defensive line that didn't change much this offseason even though it was seemingly an apparent weakness for Green Bay.
Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster returned this season to round out the three-man front, but some immediate depth or starting help in the form of a free agent like Damon "Snacks" Harrison makes a ton of sense now.
The Packers aren't going to find a nose tackle who can do what Clark does in terms of rushing the passer at this stage of the season. But Harrison, still just 31 years old, is one of the top free agents left on the board. Though he had a down season last year on a bad Detroit Lions team, don't forget that in 2018, he checked in with a 92.0 Pro Football Focus grade. If nothing else, he could still be a force against the run.
Even now, Harrison might represent an upgrade on the interior. If Clark makes it back, the rotation is stronger, and if not, the team will have been proactive in adding to the roster in a meaningful manner.
Pursue Free-Agent LBs
It seems the Packers might be content to ride out the rookie roller coaster with Krys Barnes.
Barnes, after all, got a surprise start inside Sunday, which registered as pretty shocking considering he was cut when the Packers trimmed to 53, signed to the practice squad and then called up.
Barnes wasn't bad, but interior 'backers happen to be a strength of the free-agent market right now. Todd Davis, just 28, was a bit of an unexpected cut by Denver who can play inside. Nigel Bradham, 31, has at least 51 tackles in each of his eight seasons and could at least bring a mentorship element.
While the hope might've been Christian Kirksey, among others, could mitigate the departure of Blake Martinez, early returns suggest otherwise. We'll see if Mike Pettine experiments more with 'backer snap counts in the coming weeks, but adding another name even for depth purposes could be key as the season progresses.
Consider Veteran Safeties
Not to harp on free agency too much, but safety features quite the laundry list of names available right now. To name a few:
- Earl Thomas
- Eric Reid
- Damarious Randall
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
- Reshad Jones
Is leadership and communication at safety without Tramon Williams (he wasn't brought back after his contract expired last offseason) guiding the defensive backs going to be a long-term issue? Sunday hinted at some possible hiccups again even though last year served as the onboarding process for Adrian Amos and then-rookie Darnell Savage.
If Savage doesn't quickly take an anticipated leap or Amos doesn't match his contract in what is Year 2 for both of them in Pettine's defense, Green Bay could end up with a secondary opposing offenses can exploit.
The Packers shouldn't just make a move to make a move, but there are some familiar names out there, and it might be a better option than sticking with something that isn't working.
Make a Trade
If the Packers aren't content with any of the names in free agency at key spots, wheeling and dealing could give the team an instant upgrade.
Names like Denzel Perryman of the Los Angeles Chargers or even Haason Reddick of the Arizona Cardinals at linebacker could be interesting buy-low options to see how they blossom in different surroundings. The former hasn't met expectations and has one year left on his deal, while the latter just had his apparent replacement (Isaiah Simmons) drafted in the top 10.
If the team is willing to see what Krys Barnes has on short notice, a 2017 first-round pick like Reddick could be an interesting hybrid and/or situational player who boosts the rotation and gives the coaching staff options.
And if the Packers are really desperate to generate pressure if Kenny Clark misses time and the goal is to improve the quality of the rotation behind Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith, maybe a win-now move like grabbing Ryan Kerrigan from Washington could be a hypothetical worth exploring since he's on the final year of his deal and his current team has spent big resources to acquire his long-term replacements.
It's a delicate balance when it comes to trades this year—it's early and the unorthodox offseason might influence what the coaching staff sees right now, but wait too long and it'll be too late to get a new player in and acclimated to the point of having an impact.
Get Raven Greene Back in the Lineup
If the Packers coaching staff was so willing to go with the youth movement at linebacker via Krys Barnes, it's advisable to do the same with safety Raven Greene as soon as he's healthy.
Greene was questionable for Sunday's win and ended up inactive with a quad injury, leading to Will Redmond playing in the hybrid dime-linebacker look. As mentioned previously, safety play wasn't exactly a boon for the Packers in Minnesota.
But Greene is one of those players that the Packers faithful have wanted to see more of for a couple of years now. He's an interesting hybrid player who has yet to see even 10 percent of the defense's total snaps over the last two seasons.
But what Greene has flashed has been promising, and his experience in the defense versus that of a new arrival might necessitate the coaching staff giving him the biggest role of his career to date.
Peruse Practice Squads
Should the Packers not want to open up the checkbook or sacrifice assets in an early-season trade, there's always the ability to claim players off another team's practice squad.
And doing so would mean adding said player to the 53-man roster in an effort to provide immediate help, so a cheap reinforcement at previously mentioned positions like defensive line, linebacker or safety could be the answer.
Granted, teams can protect four practice squad players from claims each week and promote two players to active game-day rosters without exposing them to waivers. But with 16 players on each practice squad for 31 other teams, there are bound to be some names worth looking at from Green Bay's perspective.
A defensive lineman like Dan McCullers on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad or defensive back Lavert Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs are two of the many possibilities. There's less inherent risk in such a move, if nothing else, but it's another angle to consider after hints of problems for the Packers defense in Week 1.