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The Packers’ horrific run defense is even worse than it seems

However bad you think it is, it’s been so much worse. 

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers’ worst rushing defense of the last decade was almost certainly 2013. Dating back to 2010, it was the only year prior to 2022 in which the team allowed a positive EPA/play to opposing rushers. It was also the only year of the last decade, prior to 2022, where they scored a positive rush defense DVOA.

(An important reminder: While on offense, positive EPA/DVOA numbers are good, the opposite is true for defenses. Negative numbers for EPA/Play and DVOA are good for the defense in question, and positive numbers are bad. The lower the better.)

In 2013, the team allowed exactly 2000 rushing yards and allowed opposing ball carriers to average 4.6 yards per carry. They were eventually undone by Colin Kaepernick’s 7-carry, 98-yard rushing performance in the playoffs.

Over the last decade, outside of a brief uptick from 2015 to 2017, it would be fair to say that the Packers have had a poor rushing defense. They peaked in 2017, when they ranked 8th in DVOA and 9th in EPA/play. Outside of that season, they never ranked higher than 15th in either metric and, more often than not, they have ranked in the low 20s or worse. Packers fans are accustomed to run defense being one of the weaknesses of the team, and so this season likely doesn’t come as a huge surprise. It can even be mildly beneficial to have a poorer run defense if it entices opponents to pursue a less-efficient, run-heavy attack.


The 2022 Packers are SO much worse than they usually are. So just how bad are they? Take a look at this table.

Packer Run Defense Since 2012

Year Run Defense DVOA Rank Defensive Rush EPA/Play Rank
Year Run Defense DVOA Rank Defensive Rush EPA/Play Rank
2012 -11% 13 -0.055 23
2013 5.30% 31 0.019 31
2014 -6.50% 22 -0.109 16
2015 -11.10% 19 -0.073 26
2016 -14.10% 15 -0.078 20
2017 -16.50% 8 -0.145 9
2018 -0.30% 30 -0.083 19
2019 -0.40% 27 -0.013 30
2020 -5.40% 18 -0.039 17
2021 -0.20% 28 -0.004 31
2022 12.40% 31 0.05 30

Look at the big huge 12.4% number in the DVOA column, and the comparatively large 0.05 EPA in the Defensive Rush EPA/Play column. They are more than twice as bad as they were in 2013! Rushing plays are almost always negative EPA events across a large sample, but not for this Packers’ team. Every two rushes against this team is a tenth of a point.

Remember how in 2013 the Packers allowed 2000 yards rushing over 16 games? Their 16 game pace right now would put their opponents at 2260 yards and 16 touchdowns, while averaging 4.9 yards a carry! And of course, there will be a 17th game to tack on some additional counting stats. It’s almost as if they’ve been facing the 2003 version of Jamal Lewis every week. It’s incredibly awful, but oh, it gets so much worse.

You might be thinking maybe it’s not so bad! They faced Saquon Barkley, who is really good, and that Breece Hall guy seems like he might be something someday, and even the David Montgomery/Khalil Herbert/Justin Fields trio is pretty good. Maybe it’s just their level of competition.

Here’s the thing. They next face the Detroit Lions, who are also quite bad at stopping the run, but are excellent at running the ball on offense, ranking 7th in offensive rushing DVOA. Even if D’Andre Swift doesn’t play due to injury (and he did return to practice on Thursday), they have an elite offensive line and Jamaal Williams is currently 7th in DVOA among RBs.

The rest of the season’s schedule includes the following opponents: Dallas Cowboys (2nd in offensive rushing DVOA), Tennessee Titans (only 15th, but how do you feel Derrick Henry, who just had 219 yards rushing against the truly terrible Houston defense, facing this Packer defense), Philadelphia Eagles (5th), Chicago Bears (18th, but they went for 180 yards and a TD earlier, and are now using Fields more as a runner), Los Angeles Rams (legitimately bad at 26th), Miami Dolphins (again, not great at 19th, but does anyone remember Raheem Mostert?), Minnesota Vikings (4th) and Detroit again (7th). That’s a lot of top ten rushing attacks and outstanding backs that they will face in the coming weeks.

And given that the trade deadline has passed, it is very unlikely they get any personnel assistance to shut down opposing runs. Perhaps playing one of their special teams gunners over Quay Walker or working in Devonte Wyatt on the line could make a difference, but will any of those players help as much as losing De’Vondre Campbell for some time will hurt?

This is a big problem. Last year’s team, in Joe Barry’s first season, was the second-worst run defense of the last decade for the Packers. That this year has gotten substantially worse is stunning. Although teams can easily live with “average bad” run defense, this level of badness will make it all but impossible for the Packers to rip off the number of games necessary to make the playoffs. They basically can’t fall behind in games. They have so little margin for error.

Barry’s defenses have been at least decent against the pass. You simply cannot be this bad against the run.