Since Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took over the reins in 2008, the Packers have had their fair share of wins in shootouts. Rodgers has had to outduel opposing quarterbacks and offenses on numerous occasions to help make up for lackluster defenses that Green Bay has had in the past.
Entering this season, a ton of hype circulated around the defense in Green Bay. The talent is legitimate and the potential is through the roof with the big question remaining of whether or not the pieces of the puzzle will be put together.
Sunday’s win in Tampa Bay over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers was a defensive clinic for most of the afternoon by defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s unit. The end result: a 14-12 Packers win to move to 2-1 on the season.
In Rodgers’ time since taking over as the starter in 2008, Green Bay was 3-27 when scoring 14 points or less. They notched that fourth win against a legend in Brady.
Rodgers has noted the brilliance in this defense throughout the offseason, mentioning in training camp that the defense worked the offense on certain days and the superstar quarterback at one point was willing to accept a stalemate as a victory of sorts for the offense.
“I don’t know if we’re going to,” Rodgers said, when asked when the offense would start to overwhelm its defense. “I mean, they’re a talented bunch. I’d like to stalemate every day. I think that’s possible.”
His praise rang out following the win against Tampa Bay, a game where the offense for the Packers came out on fire before falling off a cliff the entire second half.
“Sometimes it's tilted a little bit more to one side,” Rodgers said about the balance on the team. “But offensively, we're young and we're struggling at times to finish things off … So just got to tighten things up a little bit. But our defense is holding them to 12 points, we're going to win probably all those games.”
The three wins prior to Sunday with Rodgers at the helm that came in this fashion occurred when the Packers faced quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler in 2010 and Mitchell Trubisky in 2019. It’s not exactly a star-studded list which makes the win against Brady on a day where the offense sputtered out even more impressive.
So what does it all mean?
Perhaps it’s just a blip on the radar and the 2022 Green Bay defense will sink back towards the middle of the pack like it has in so many past seasons. Or, maybe this defense is the real deal.
Rookie linebacker and first-round pick Quay Walker is already putting his stamp on this group, flying around the field every week and making big plays alongside fellow inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell who arguably had the play of the game against the Bucs to seal it for Green Bay.
Defensive tackle Kenny Clark has been a demon for opposing offensive lines all year long and the eye test shows it as well as outlets like Pro Football Focus which have Clark graded sixth overall out of 120 interior lineman. Clark had two sacks Sunday while edge rusher Rashan Gary continued to flex his muscles, picking up another sack himself.
In the secondary, cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas make up one heck of a trio for any wide receiver group they go up against and Stokes was targeted just once by Brady on Sunday.
Barry’s unit has given up 12 points to the Buccaneers and 10 points to the Chicago Bears the last two weeks after a dud in the opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s a promising start that leads the mind to wonder if this group is different enough to carry a lot of the weight.
Rodgers has lost 10 playoff games in his career. In six of those losses the opposing team has scored 51, 45, 44, 37 (twice) and 31 points. The offense Green Bay has constructed now is a work in progress with plenty of inexperience at wide receiver or faces previously unfamiliar to Rodgers in Green Bay. It should get better, at least that’s the expectation, but how many layers will be peeled back by the time the regular season chapters are written and a new chapter starts in the playoffs is unknown. That’s why this defense this year is so critical because this team will have to lean on them even more, something Green Bay hasn’t been able to do in the past.
If Barry’s group is up for the challenge the Packers can absolutely compete for the Lombardi Trophy. If they fade out of the spotlight and ride the roller coaster of inconsistency, this offense likely won’t be able to hold things up for a serious run.
There’s a different feel in Green Bay this year and it’s because for the first time in a long time they might just have a legitimate defense. If Sunday was any indicator, there will be plenty more chaos to be created for any offense that lines up across from that defense.