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A Week 5 silver lining: Packers DL TJ Slaton

Slaton made three key plays in the run game against the New York Giants.

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

There haven’t been many positives for the Green Bay Packers over the last two weeks. That’s just the nature of the beast when you allow Daniel Jones, Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe to complete 36 of 48 combined passes (75 percent) against you without an interception. With that being said, one standout against the New York Giants in London was second-year defensive lineman TJ Slaton.

With first-round rookie Devonte Wyatt out with a quad injury, the Packers elected not to call up a practice squad player or activate rookie seventh-round pick Jonathan Ford, meaning that 3-4 base defense Green Bay had a total of four defensive linemen active against the Giants. It was a risky move, as one injury at the position could have meant that the team would be unable to play their four-linemen goal line package, but, luckily, no injuries occurred on the defensive side of the ball on Sunday.

Because of the limited numbers, Slaton was forced to play 41 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps in Week 5, the third-best mark in his NFL career thus far. The only other times that Slaton played more on a down-to-down basis were in Week 9 of 2021 against the Kansas City Chiefs and in Week 18 of 2021 against the Detroit Lions. In Week 9, the team was without 3-4 starting defensive end Kingsley Keke, who was held out with a concussion, and Dean Lowry, the other 3-4 starting defensive end, was limited with a hamstring injury. In Week 18, the Packers had nothing to play for and benched their starters in the second half with the top seed of the NFC locked up going into the game.

Coming out of the University of Florida, Slaton’s biggest issues were conditioning, weight fluctuations and experience on the defensive side of the ball. Slaton, a former four-star guard prospect, played mostly on the offensive line as a prep and was only a one-year starter for the Gators in college. He made huge strides in the 2022 preseason, though, when he was able to play 40 snaps in the first halves of preseason games, out snapping Ford 26-to-10 at the nose tackle position.

Down a third defensive end on Sunday, the Packers were forced to play starting nose tackle Kenny Clark more at defensive end this past weekend against the Giants. In Clark’s place, Slaton came off the bench more often at the nose tackle position. On three key run plays, Slaton was able to disrupt offensive linemen in an impressive fashion that helped bottle up one of the better running games in the NFL through five games this season.

Despite the hot hand, Slaton was still out-snapped 25-to-87 by 3-4 starting defensive ends Jarran Reed and Lowry. Maybe, though, this was the showing that the coaching staff needed to see to play Clark more at end on a week-to-week basis. For most of the season, Reed and Lowry have been non-factors on a struggling defense that has seen little to no penetration on the defensive interior outside of Clark, who has been having a Pro Bowl-caliber season.

With so many high-level draft picks and well-paid veterans on the defense, there are few places where changing the starting personnel seems realistic. The one exception is the defensive line, where Slaton, or Wyatt if he can see the field, has an opportunity to step up with an in-season promotion. Hopefully, Slaton keeps this positive momentum moving forward and the coaching staff makes a change during the homestretch of 2022.