When the Green Bay Packers new head coach Matt LaFleur retained defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, they kept a man who lead the Packers to one of the top pass rushing teams in the NFL. Succeeding on the sidelines is nothing new for Pettine, who was defensive coordinator for the Jets from 2009-2012, for the Bills in 2013 and head coach for the Browns in 2014-2015.
Green Bay was seventh in sacks per pass attempt and had a remarkable 16 players with at least half a sack, second most in team history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. In addition, the pass defense ranked 12th after a porous 23rd in 2017. Overall, the Packers were eighth in sacks with 44.
Heading into the free agency period, the team clearly wanted to maintain the direction Pettine is taking this defense. This means to add some top notch pass rushers, particularly from the edge. However, in order to be able to send numerous pass rushers, there is a need for reliable coverage men in the secondary.
The Packers may have very well filled those needs with the acquisitions of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos. The deals are reportedly worth $37 million over four years for Amos, $66 million for four years for Za’Darius Smith and $52 million base value for Preston Smith. Certainly a lot of money is being spent, but if all the pieces fall into place, will be well worth it for the Packers. Why so much money? TP’s Rob Born has his own theory about Green Bay’s struggles with attracting free agents.
Za’Darius Smith is a four-year veteran who has played his entire career for the Baltimore Ravens. After three solid, but overall unremarkable seasons, Smith came to life last season, recording 8.5 sacks and 45 tackles. While his rush defense might be suspect, Smith is entering his prime and is an excellent pass rusher from the outside linebacker position, recording 60 quarterback pressures last season.
Preston Smith adds a solid combination of run defense and pass rushing skills to the table. In four seasons with the Redskins, Smith recorded 164 tackles, 24.5 sacks and two seasons with eight sacks each. He generated nearly as many pressures (53) as Za’Darius Smith last season. The combination of the two Smiths are nearly perfect for Pettine’s scheme. They love to pin their ears back and rush the passer at a feverish pitch.
Again, for this pass rushing scheme to work, there needs to be solid defenders at the back end. This is where the addition of Adrian Amos comes into play. After playing four years with the Bears, the Packers were perfectly aware of his capabilities. In four seasons with the Bears, Amos recorded 269 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks and three forced fumbles. Excellent coming up defending the run, Amos also had nine passes defensed, showing he can be solid in pass coverage.
There should be plenty of excitement as to how good the Packers can be defensively in 2019, as Pettine’s play calling options have increased with the addition of these three players. Of course, they did not come cheap so it will turn out to be a great decision only when they prove their value in the lineup.
Under Pettine’s leadership, and with his style going into its second season, Gutekunst has provided the Packers the tools long needed on the defensive side of the ball. Looking forward, it is anyone’s guess as to how much more attention the defense will get in the draft or if the focus will now turn primarily on the future of the offense.
Another important factor to consider is how well-received Pettine is with players on the team. I have no doubt that the new additions to the roster will quickly find their place in the system.