Defensive Line Talent And Depth Are Keys To What the Packers Want To Do

Green Bay invested heavily in the defensive front

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry was hired by the Green Bay Packers under the premise that he would implement a similar system to what Brandon Staley installed with the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. And that's what he started to do last season. Two-high safety looks were predominant, using lighter boxes in comparison to predecessor Mike Pettine.

Now, as the system matures and evolves, a decisive part of the process is to enable Barry personnel-wise to adjust the defense to what he wants to run. If the idea is to use lighter boxes and load up the coverage on the back end, it's imperative to have a great defensive line in place to protect the linebackers.

As the Vic Fangio-inspired system ties its front to the two-high shells, there are not enough bodies to play a one-gap scheme, where every defensive lineman is responsible for one technique. But it's also not sustainable to use a two-gap scheme with such a light box. Therefore, coaches implemented what is called the gap-and--half-technique. The Athletic's Ted Nguyen explained how this logic is applied:

“They attack their primary gap with enough control so that they can ‘fall back’ into their secondary gap. The objective isn’t to make a tackle but force the ball to ‘roll’ outside, which gives defensive backs time to come up in run support from depth. What they don’t want is for vertical seams to open up on the first level and have ball carriers quickly get north and south”, Nguyen wrote.

For a defensive lineman to be effective in this scheme, he needs to be big enough to occupy spaces and fast enough to move between gaps during plays. That's why Brandon Staley couldn't repeat in his first year with the Chargers the success he had with the Rams - and why the Chargers invested so much in defensive line reinforcements this offseason.

The Green Bay Packers logic is clear. They want to build the best front since Kenny Clark was drafted in 2016. First-round pick Devonte Wyatt is the highest pedigree partner that Clark has ever had. And, if the Packers hit the pick, he will immediately be the best interior defensive lineman to play alongside Clark since Mike Daniels had a fantastic season in 2017, Clark's second year in the league.

“He can be really good on first and second down, and he's an inside guy that has some unique traits as a pass rusher”, said Packers defensive line coach and run-game coordinator Jerry Montgomery. “Some things you can't teach, you just naturally have. He's got twitch. I'd like to call it awkward movements, some movements he can be out in that other guys can't be and he can recover from those things. And he's got a high motor, just a naturally high motor. So, really, really good defensive line traits.”

Wyatt's high-end talent is impressive, but he's not the only investment the Packers have made in the defensive line. The team also signed former Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs lineman Jarran Reed. He can be a versatile piece around the line, with capabilities to play both the 3- or 5-technique, and he is 10 pounds heavier than Dean Lowry. Chiefs Wire’s editor Charles Goldman described Reed’s role in Kansas City last season and highlighted his versatility.

“He played a variety of different spots for Kansas City, from 3-tech to 5-tech,” said Goldman. “They liked to use him on different stunts and twists pretty frequently. I think he’ll probably stick to the interior in the Packers’ scheme, likely playing 3-tech opposite Dean Lowry. He could probably play nose tackle in a pinch too if Kenny Clark were to get injured or something.”

Green Bay also drafted monstrous nose tackle Jonathan Ford in the seventh round, another sign of how much they will value size for the unit. Ford weighs 338 pounds, much more than Clark's 314 pounds and even more than TJ Slaton's 330 pounds - which indicates that, if Ford can get playing time right away, Clark would get free to be moved around the line as well.

It's exciting that there are clear signs of what the Packers want to do upfront and how their front strategy looks aligned with Barry's coverage principles. On paper, the Packers are ready to be a dominant defense. It's time to put it on the field.

Photo: Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Wendell Ferreira covers the Green Bay Packers for Zone Coverage and Cheesehead TV. He is a Brazilian journalist with over a decade of experience covering the NFL, soccer, NBA, and MMA. Follow him on twitter at @wendellfp  

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6 points

Comments (14)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
croatpackfan's picture

June 07, 2022 at 09:02 am

Wendell, this is what I'm excited the most. To see what Packers D can do at the line of scrimmage and how Barry will use 2 fast and strong ILB for blitzes and TFLs.

This is assuming that secondary will be able to perform on at least very good level.

For the long time Packers hasn't have that much good DLs to play together. With Smith and Gary, on paper they look very capable to pruduce chaos in the back field...

I can't wait to see how they will produce...

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Matt Gonzales's picture

June 07, 2022 at 10:49 am

On paper at least, this looks like the most complete defense GB has had since at least 2010.

There are still some depth questions to sort out, but I see no weak links in any of the starters on the defense, and the DL depth will be huge in helping close out games strong.

5 points
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porupack's picture

June 08, 2022 at 05:41 am

Exactly! At least the investments were made, though with rookies, it is far from certain how they will perform. We can't expect a big impact in year one....though some do. The round that players were picked aren't a great predictor, but the GM and Coaches have embarked on their plan and it included the capital acquired from moving on from Davante.l

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PatrickGB's picture

June 07, 2022 at 09:50 am

Ok, now I get it. I have been confused about technique for the Dlineman. I assumed it was “see the ball, attack the man with the ball”. It’s more than that. Misdirection and over pursuit can have a lineman in the wrong place to make the tackle. Thanks for the article.

2 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

June 07, 2022 at 02:23 pm

Barry also coached under Wade Phillips and uses some of his principles too. Phillips liked to have one big DE to two gap and the other be a lighter penetrator. With a guy like Clark at NT it's a good way to occasionally free him for a man on man situation.

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 07, 2022 at 02:24 pm

Daily Double.

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HawkPacker's picture

June 07, 2022 at 10:27 am

Very good article Wendell.

I absolutely loved drafting those two GA defensive players in the first round. I also love the job our DC Joe Barry has done his first year and look forward to what he will be able to do this year with the new players he covets.

This, along with the new young WR's, is an exciting time for us and coaching is going to be so important this year with all the changes that have been made to the team through the draft and trades/signings.

4 points
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frankthefork's picture

June 07, 2022 at 10:56 am

Packers FO finally has realized the value of a solid front . After the Giants, Niners and Bucs have kept the Packers from moving forward in the playoffs for years, it's about time we put up some beef in the trenches.
Also look at OL guys today weigh 320 on ave and the DT are just 300

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

June 07, 2022 at 11:49 am

The Packer defensive front outperformed the Bucs, and the Niners. We held the Bucs to 65 yards rushing and forced 3 turnovers from Brady. We held SF without a TD.

The Giants, I'm assuming you're referring to 2011, when we had four turnovers against them.

There's reasons that we haven't advanced, but I don't see how it's been the defensive front that's responsible for that.

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

June 07, 2022 at 05:13 pm

I think it has more to do with the Defensive Coordinator valuing big DL. Pettine didn’t like to play more than one.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

June 08, 2022 at 10:20 am

So true Frank!

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splitpea1's picture

June 07, 2022 at 03:55 pm

It looks like we finally have the versatility and depth to be able to clog the gaps and not get pushed backwards (as we did a few of years ago on occasion); no vertical seams on the first level here! Then hopefully the ball carrier gets forced laterally towards the sideline where the LBs and safeties have time to zero in on a tackle for minimal gain. The only tradeoff is that the D-Line can't be as aggressive charging into the backfield sometimes, but there are plenty of variations of this scheme and we should have the personnel to execute them whenever needed.

It will be interesting to see of all the listed players make the team. There's Lowry with the salary issue, and while Ford is huge and agile, one of the weaknesses mentioned in his scouting report is that he may be limited to one-gap systems due to tackling limitations. So many choices--but given the makeup of our DL a few years ago, it's a nice problem to have.

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porupack's picture

June 08, 2022 at 05:51 am

Nice article on the scheme and intentions of Barry/LaFleur and GMs. For that scheme to work, filling the ILB with top talent, rather than the past regimes' low emphasis. Like you put it, the combo of full coverage of receivers especially in the middle, combined with beef on the line and your 1 and half tech scheme, seems predicated on strong ILB to then clean up after they have guarded against quick passes in the middle. Thus more complete pressure on the QB....and somebody gets a sack or INT. I think I'm just typing what you already said.....just what I do as I get older.

3 points
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croatpackfan's picture

June 08, 2022 at 07:26 am

"I think I'm just typing what you already said.....just what I do as I get older."

For me it only shows that you are just excited as anyone here looking at Packers D front. Nothing else...

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