In almost Dom Capers fashion, it looked like the Green Bay Packers weren’t going to be able to play well enough on defense to win the game. If it were, in fact, going to be a loss in Capers fashion, it was going to be a defensive collapse in which the offense couldn’t put up enough points in a shootout.
For some time last night, it seemed that indeed it was going to be the case. Missing tackles, poor pursuit, and execution were mixing to be a disaster for the Green Bay Packers’ defense run by third-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
In what was a flashback of previous years of poor tackling, the all-pro back Alvin Kamara simply tip-toed down the field for a 52-yard touchdown in which the Packers’ defense simply couldn’t get a hold of Kamara.
Going into this game, however, it wasn’t poor tackling that had overshadowed the Packers’ pre-game headlines. It was the fact that they were without impact players WR Davante Adams and NT Kenny Clark, both who are invaluable at their respective positions. Clark, who injured his groin against the Minnesota Vikings, did not play and Adams, who injured his hamstring against the Detroit Lions, wasn’t able to go against the Saints.
With Adams out on offense and Kenny on defense, it was WR Allen Lazard and DE Kingsley Keke who had impactful showings which in turn filled the void.
Lazard, who the Packers cut just a year ago from their active roster could have been picked up on waivers by any team in the NFL, found his way back onto the field last year against the Detroit Lions. In 2020, however, he has filled an even bigger role. It was first WR3 or WR2, a position in which many predicted, rightfully so, that the Packers would draft with their first selection. With the Packers drafting QB Jordan Love, it was obvious that Lazard’s role became more important and explicit.
Allen Lazard (6 rec, 146 yards, 1TD) had a career night against the Saints, certainly filling the void left by Adams and making a name for himself and the case for why he belongs as the backup to Adams, WR2. His 72-yard touchdown was no doubt the highlight of his night. Lazard stepped up when the Packers needed him the most. There was an obvious void on that Packers offense and if the Packers were going to rely solely on Aaron Jones to take the lead for the offense, the Saints would have made the Packers one-dimensional, and it would have been a disaster on the road. Instead, Lazard showed up, gave Aaron Rodgers a solid target, a reliable receiver. One guy the Packers didn’t forget about was Mercedes Lewis. His blocking at the goal line against Cameron Jordan and his Touchdown catch represents the reasons why Packers GM Brian Gutekunst brought him back.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kenny Clark’s injury was as big of a blow to the defense as Adams was to the offense. The guy who stepped up in Clark’s absence was Kingsley Keke. Keke, a second-year player out of Texas A & M, even though he left the game with just two tackles, he did have two quarterback hits, both of which were impactful and one in which caused Drew Brees to fumble the ball. The Packers have something to look forward to and a solid base to build on when Kenny Clark comes back onto the field.
The Packers’ first half could have been worse for their defense. That’s right, the defense, run by Mike Pettine, had a series of ups and downs. They had an overall poor performance in the first half highlighted by strong individual performances by Kingsley Keke, Jaire Alexander, and Adrian Amos. The injury to Kenny Clark hindered the Packers’ ability to stop the run, as everyone had predicted. To make matters worse, Veteran Linebacker Christian Kirksey left the game with a shoulder injury, forcing second-year player Ty Summers to fill in for him. Now there is no doubt that the Smith Bros and Rashan Gary have the ability to put on a show for the Packers’ defense. What counts, however, is consistency among the group as a whole. That isn’t what they were getting against the Saints.
This Packers team is fun to watch. The mix of options by Matt LaFleur keeps defenses on their heels, second-guessing where the ball may go next. The pursuit of young defensive players like Jaire Alexander and Kingsley Keke makes the Packers’ defense unpredictable. This team has the pieces to put together a solid run this season, if they can, consistency will take them where they want to go. On to the Atlanta Falcons.