The Green Bay Packers’ defense might look similar from a schematic perspective in 2021 to the unit that takes the field in 2022, but there will be some significant personnel changes. Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas will both be around for the entire season, one returning from injury and the other signing a long-term deal after a midseason arrival. Add in two first-round picks in Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt and you have the makings of some exciting playmakers at all levels.
The special teams, meanwhile, will have a new coordinator, one who has had great success at every stop in his coaching career. Contrast that against a Packers team that finished dead last in every overall special teams metric last season (including Football Outsiders’ DVOA) and you have a unit that can go nowhere but up. But just how far can that group ascend?
To help us answer the questions about those units, we had the opportunity to speak with Derrik Klassen of Football Outsiders. The site recently published their 2022 Almanac, which examines every NFL team and attempts to project expectations for the upcoming season. Here is the first part of our conversation, which focuses on these units, and look ahead for a discussion of the offense to come on Wednesday.
APC: The Packers’ special teams were horrendous last year, if not historically bad. How much improvement is feasible with Rich Bisaccia taking over as coordinator and could an improvement to, say, around league average be enough to offset some of the offensive struggles that are widely expected?
Klassen: It’s hard to say how much Bisaccia can change. Green Bay’s net kick and net punt values were either average or just below, not catastrophic. Those areas, where it’s important to rally and coordinate everyone gunning for the returner, feel like the areas the special teams coach can help most in.
The Packers’ biggest struggles were with their punt returner, Amari Rodgers, and their kicker, Mason Crosby. Crosby is probably just suffering from late-career decline and it’s hard to ask Bisaccia to turn back time, but Rodgers at least has some degree of hope for being fixed working with Bisaccia. (If it makes anyone feel better, the 2021 Packers had the best DVOA among teams to ever finish worst in special teams DVOA, so that’s something.)
APC: The Packers’ and Vikings’ defenses finished the year very close in weighted DVOA, but FO’s projections seem to like Minnesota’s unit a lot more than Green Bay’s heading into 2022. What is at play there, especially when considering the Packers’ personnel additions (such as Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt, plus Jaire Alexander’s return)?
Klassen: Sorting everything out for the Vikings being higher is trickier, but as for the Packers being a bit lower than some may expect, it’s because many people’s idea of the defense (including mine) takes a lot of projection and leaping over uncertainty, namely with rookies. I like Walker and Wyatt, but they are rookies taking on major roles in a defense that was not good last year.
Rasul Douglas’ 2021 season also looks unsustainable at a glance and that likely has something to do with it. Even Jaire Alexander, who is awesome, is coming off injuries and may not be all of what we hope he can be right away. I expect the defense to be better than the projections, but that would be an idea of why the projections are what they are.
Be sure to check out the 2022 Football Outsiders Almanac here and check back on Wednesday as we wrap up our Q&A by examining the Packers’ offense.