The Green Bay Packers’ defense made a strong statement in week one, holding the Chicago Bears to three points and stifling Matt Nagy’s team throughout the game. Pressure on Mitchell Trubisky was coming at a near-constant rate, while the secondary gave him few open windows to throw into and the linebackers held up well against the run.
But who stood out individually? For this week’s walkthroughs, a handful of APC contributors weigh in on which Packers defender stood out to them the most in last week’s game. If these players continue to perform the way they did in week one, this should be a fun season for Packers fans — and the team may need the defense to continue to keep it up if the offense keeps struggling to find its footing early on in the season.
Shawn Wagner: Tramon Williams
The oldest defensive back in the NFL didn’t look the part last Thursday as Williams played every defensive snap for the Packers. His noteworthy highlight came in the third quarter as he made a critical shove to force Allen Robinson out of bounds near the goal line without getting a second foot down in bounds after a long pass. One of the most game-changing plays of the evening, it was the type of savvy, veteran move one would expect from Williams. But it was also a play in which Williams diagnosed and reacted to a streaking Robinson left free as Jaire Alexander jumped a potential running back screen. On top of that play, Williams was reliable in the slot all night long - not bad for the legs of a 36-year old corner.
A close second was Montravius Adams, who chased down two screens — one to a wide receiver and one to a running back — 10 yards down the field. That type of effort will get noticed in film review and earn Adams snaps again in week two. His role is now an important one with Mike Daniels gone and it was a strong start for the former third-round pick.
Evan “Tex” Western: Za’Darius Smith
This Smith was the biggest free agent prize of the offseason for GM Brian Gutekunst, earning the largest contract of the four big additions. After one game, he is already living up to the $16.5 million per year deal, as he was a one-man wrecking crew in Chicago.
Smith held up great against the run on base downs when manning the outside linebacker spot, but did his best work as an interior pass-rusher. He had ten pressures, three quarterback hits, and a sack all on his own, and his work in tandem with Preston Smith on a few stunts and twists was a thing of beauty. Perhaps best of all, he seems to fit Mike Pettine’s scheme perfectly, with the ability to line up in those different positions in different situations and be effective in all of his assigned spots.
I have to admit that when I saw the price tag for Za’Darius in March, I was taken aback and worried that he would not live up to that deal. And although one game is far too small a sample size to judge that contract, if it is a sign of things to come the Packers won’t be regretting giving him that amount of money.
Jonathan E. Barnett: Darnell Savage
First off, I was slightly let down by the fact that his effort to move to jersey 21 was stopped. Just try and tell me that jersey would not sell like crazy. Anyhow, the first thing that was immediately obvious is his speed translates to the field. There are lots of players that show speed when measured, but he shows that speed during the game. He filled well on run plays with a great inside-out pursuit. He closed on the ball well in run support when the Bears attempted to run outside. Now, he ended with just three tackles and one pass defended, but he was always in good position.
My initial fear with really fast players is that they will overly depend on their speed to save them. Savage had a great break on the ball and was able to see the field very well in front of him. This was something that Josh Jones did not do terribly well. This was a major step up. The Bears were able to get a little success to Allen Robinson along the sidelines, but there was very little room over the middle. Other players made bigger plays, but I was very excited to see a draft pick make solid plays on a consistent basis.
Paul Noonan - Raven Greene
Greene played the big nickel/dimebacker/out-of-position-safety about as well as it can be played, which is doubly impressive given that he is not a typical big body like Josh Jones. That didn’t matter to Greene, who was among the surest tacklers on the team (as he was all preseason) and helped to keep the short passing game from Chicago in check. The hybrid safety is essentially a starting position in the Green Bay defense and even when he comes back, Oren Burks may find himself on the sideline more than expected.
Greene will be more severely tested this week against a more dynamic rushing attack from Dalvin Cook, but if he can hold up, he will start to cement himself as a truly valuable piece of this defense.
Jon Meerdink: Kenny Clark
Hey, I realize this is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit, but Kenny Clark is the engine at the heart of the Packers defense. Not only does he make plays on his own (half a sack and two tackles within a yard of the line of scrimmage on run plays), he makes everyone else’s job easier by occupying double teams, flashing into gaps, and generally just being a 300-pound pain in the butt for opposing offensive linemen.
Sure, this may have just been an excuse to show this play again…
...but when you’re that good (and still not quite 24 years old) why not revel in it a little bit?