Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2020 season. Today, we examine the safeties.
Mike Pettine’s preference for lighter defenses put a lot of the Packers’ defensive burden on their safeties. And to the extent that they could rely on the top end of their depth chart, the defense played fairly well. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage were about as good of a safety duo as you could ask for, and at their best provided stability and playmaking, respectively.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Pettine’s strategy meant they couldn’t simply rely on the top end of the depth chart for help at safety; as often as not, Pettine wanted three safeties on the field, and that’s where the trouble began.
The Packers’ non-Amos and non-Savage safeties were either too limited (Will Redmond), too injured (Raven Greene), or too raw (Vernon Scott, Henry Black) to make much of an impact, and as such, the defense suffered for its reliance on safeties.
If any position group could see its fortunes improve through a different philosophy under Joe Barry, it could be this one, if only because it’s hard to see Barry leaning on them quite so hard as Pettine did.
16 games, 16 starts
83 total tackles, two tackles for loss
9 passes defensed, two interceptions, two sacks
If Za’Darius Smith is the best free-agent signing of Brian Gutekunst’s tenure, Adrian Amos shouldn’t be all that far behind. He’s been a steady, reliable presence in the back half of the Packers’ defense, something the Packers haven’t had since Morgan Burnett’s heyday.
In two years in Green Bay, Amos hasn’t missed a game — and he’s barely missed a snap. 2020 saw him on the field for more than 98% of the Packers’ defensive snaps. For comparison, no other Packers player played more than 88%; Jaire Alexander’s 900 plays from scrimmage were well behind Amos’ 1,008.
Splash plays have never been his game, but Amos makes up for it with unmatched versatility, logging snaps as a deep safety, in the box, as a slot corner, and various other spots on the field. Though the defense as a whole may have been something less than the sum of its parts in 2020, Amos himself remained a very valuable chess piece.
15 games, 15 starts
75 total tackles, three tackles for loss
12 passes defensed, four interceptions, one sack
It’s easy to see why the Packers liked Darnell Savage enough to trade up in the first round of the 2019 draft to get him. His rare combination of physical tools and ball skills made him an ideal partner for Adrian Amos, whose presence closer to the line of scrimmage could be accompanied by Savage’s rangy athleticism in the deep portions of the field.
But through the first half of the 2020 season, Savage looked lost, unable to harness his physical gifts. Through the season’s first eight games, Savage hadn’t recorded a pick and had managed to defend just two passes.
Down the stretch, though, the Packers deployed him slightly differently. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage, Savage started to stuff the stat sheet. All four of his interceptions and 10 of his pass defenses came in the latter half of the year. Savage looked like the playmaker the Packers had hoped he could become.
Unfortunately, the unforgiving spotlight of NFL glory swung Savage’s way in the playoffs, and faced with an opportunity to make a play on the biggest stage, he quite literally came up short.
After the Packers drew even with the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship on a thrilling 50-yard strike from Aaron Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, it seemed like there was a real opportunity for the Packers to take back momentum in the game. And with the Buccaneers facing a 3rd and 9 on their own 28 on the ensuing drive, the Packers seemed poised to do just that.
But when the Buccaneers took a shot, Chris Godwin outmuscled Savage to haul in Tom Brady’s fluttering deep ball for a 52-yard gain. Leonard Fournette punched in a 20-yard touchdown run on the next play, and the Buccaneers never relinquished their lead again.
13 games, 1 start
28 total tackles
One pass defensed
Charting games is a funny thing. As good as it is to drill down past the counting stats and what’s available in the box score, there’s always going to be an aspect of subjectivity to deciding who gets credit (or blame) for the outcome of a given play.
Well, there usually is, at least. In the case of Will Redmond, almost anyone you ask agrees that he was to blame for a lot of poor play in the Packers’ secondary.
According to Pro Football Reference (which utilizes charting data from Sportsradar), Redmond surrendered 15 completions on 22 targets where he was the primary defender, giving up 214 yards and a touchdown. According to Sports Information Solutions, he allowed 12 completions on 18 targets. Pro Football Focus blames him for 17 completions on 24 targets. You see where this is going? Though people disagree in the particulars, they agree that for opposing offenses, it was virtually always a good idea to throw at Will Redmond.
It’s probable that Redmond was a victim of circumstance here, at least in part. Mike Pettine liked to play a lot of three-safety defenses, and when he was on the field with Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, Redmond was undoubtedly the most appealing target. But that’s the challenge you face as a defender, and Redmond was not equal to it.
For his shortcomings on defense, Redmond was again a mainstay on special teams. He logged the third-most snaps on that unit, logging three tackles covering kicks.
10 games, no starts
44 total tackles, one tackle for loss
5 passes defensed, one interception 1.5 sacks
If you were designing a tweener safety/linebacker hybrid, you’d probably come up with someone that looks a lot like Raven Greene. Built like a fire hydrant, Greene has brought a one-man gun show to the Packers’ secondary for several years now.
Unfortunately, tantalizing potential aside, that’s about all Greene has been able to provide. Greene hasn’t translated his opportunities into much production, and he’s been hurt just about as often as not, playing in just 12 of a possible 32 games over the past two seasons.
In 2020, Greene did most of his work in the box. According to Pro Football Focus, he lined up there as a quasi-linebacker for 200 of his 324 defensive snaps. He was about as big of a liability in coverage there as Redmond, too. Greene and Redmond together paint a bit of a discouraging picture for the Packers’ safety group beyond Amos and Savage. If new coordinator Joe Barry intends to deploy more than two at a time, the Packers will probably need an upgrade here.
15 games, no starts
13 total tackles, two tackles for loss
A seventh-round pick last spring, Vernon Scott projected as a core special teamer as a rookie. Possessing good size and athleticism, he looked the part of a coverage dynamo.
True to that projection, Scott ended up spending the vast majority of his time covering kicks in 2020. When he did end up on the field, it was mostly in a cameo role. He hit double digits in defensive snaps just five times in his 15 games, each of them comfortable Packers wins.
At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, Scott remains a good prospect on traits alone. He should have no problem competing for bigger opportunities in 2021, and even if he doesn’t make it to the field on defense, he should have a role as a special teamer.
8 games, no starts
Eight total tackles
One forced fumble
An undrafted free agent out of Baylor, Black is another safety/linebacker tweener, having played both in Baylor’s 3-3-5 scheme. Black lined up primarily as a deep safety in his 27 snaps this year, and also logged 112 snaps on special teams. He tied with fellow safety Vernon Scott and edge rusher Randy Ramsey for third on the team with four special teams tackles.
On defense, Black was unremarkable in the best possible way. He wasn’t to blame for any big plays and didn’t have any noteworthy missed tackles. As an undrafted rookie performing spot duty, that’s good enough. Plus, he was the responsible party on truly entertaining fumble that sealed the Packers’ win over the Texans. What’s not to like?