How the Packers Can Improve the Defense for Playoff Push

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2020

Green Bay Packers' Preston Smith runs for a touchdown on a fumble recovery during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Mike Roemer/Associated Press

The Green Bay Packers have a few opportunities ahead of them to refine their defensive unit before the NFL postseason begins. 

Matt LaFleur's team has one of the most favorable December schedules. It faces Philadelphia in Week 13 before taking on Detroit and Carolina. Green Bay's toughest remaining test is a Week 16 clash with Tennessee, and it finishes the season with a trip to Chicago

During that five-game stretch, the Packers can get better defensively to be ready for the challenges New Orleans, Seattle and other NFC contenders could pose in the postseason. 

If the Packers shut down their next five opponents and Aaron Rodgers continues to thrive in the pocket, they have a chance to snag the top seed from the Saints.


Ways Packers Can Improve Defense

Contain The Run Better

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In five of the last seven games, the Green Bay defense allowed over 100 rushing yards. Three of those concessions occurred against possible playoff teams in Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Indianapolis

Green Bay is 4-3 in that stretch and created at least one turnover in the last four games to make up for the high-yardage allowance. 

Although the Packers' next five opponents are not great overall teams, they do have some impressive running backs ahead on the schedule, starting with Philadelphia's Miles Sanders. 

The containment of the 23-year-old will be key in avoiding any potential slip-up against a struggling Philadelphia team.

Any success the Packers have on Sunday could help them against Detroit and Carolina before their true rush defense test comes in the form of Derrick Henry in Week 16. 

The Titans star has three straight 100-yard performances and closed the 2019 season with five 100-yard outings in the final six games. If Green Bay limits his production after a few solid weeks of ground containment, its defense could be a force entering the postseason. 

A majority of the top NFC contenders have strong feature backs, starting with Alvin Kamara in New Orleans and Seattle's Chris Carson. 

There is also the looming threat of San Francisco making a late push and torturing Green Bay with its rushing attack for the second straight postseason. 

If the Packers bring down their rushing-yard concessions in the coming weeks, they should be more than equipped to deal with Henry and then whichever backs face them in the playoffs.


Get More Out Of Preston Smith

Preston Smith's defensive influence has grown over the last few weeks. 

The 28-year-old recorded a sack in two of the last three games and picked up two quarterback hits and a had a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the Week 12 win over Chicago. 

Smith's numbers are still down from 2019, when he recorded 23 quarterback hits, 12.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, but he is working in the right direction. If the Packers get him to play at a higher level in December, both aspects of their defense should improve. 

Smith's increased presence in the backfield could lead to more sacks, quarterbacks throwing errant passes and the loss of yardage for running backs. 

If he, Za'Darius Smith and Rashan Gary are constantly menacing offensive lines, Green Bay may be able to win a few games down the stretch with its defensive play, instead of relying on Aaron Rodgers. 

The goal for Smith and the other top defenders in the next few weeks should be to hold opponents under 20 points. 

Green Bay achieved that feat on two occasions in 2020, and if it silences the offenses of Philadelphia, Detroit and Carolina, it could go into the Tennessee game with plenty of defensive confidence. 

If the Packers are able to hold teams under or around the 20-point mark for the rest of the season, they will be in a great position to win the Super Bowl with the way their offense is playing.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference