Loss of Za’Darius Smith Leaves the Packers Thin at Edge Rusher

The Green Bay Packers placed outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith on the injured reserve on Friday due to the back injury that caused him to miss a large chunk of training camp and limited him to 18 snaps in the Packers season opener against the Saints.

The Packers still have two quality starting-caliber edge rushers on their roster in former first-round pick Rashan Gary and Preston Smith who had 12 sacks in 2019 for the Packers. But behind the starting duo, the Packers are now very thin at the edge rushing position.

The next two players on the depth chart behind Preston Smith and Gary are Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers. Neither has proven that they are ready to make major contributions in the NFL thus far.

The Packers drafted Garvin in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The former University of Miami (Florida) star played in eight games for the Packers are recorded five total tackles. Garvin was on the field for 85 defensive snaps as a rookie and did not record a sack, pressure or hurry according to pro-football-reference.com. He was inactive for the Packers final eight regular-season games in 2020 and both playoff contests.

Garvin played 27 snaps on defense in the season opener against New Orleans but was not credited with any tackles and never got close to the quarterback.

Rivers spent the 2020 season on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad after signing with them as an undrafted free agent earlier that year. He was activated for one game last December and played 15 snaps on defense without being credited with a tackle.

The Ravens invited him back to training camp this season but waived him on August 4th. The Packers claimed him one day later and he ended up making the final 53-man roster out of training camp.

The issue facing the Packers with both Garvin and Rivers is not their lack of experience. It’s the lack of pass rush potential they have shown thus far. Both are young players and may indeed develop into better edge rushers than they are now, but even in the Packers three preseason games, neither Garvin nor Rivers showed the ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Keep in mind, in the preseason, the duo was going up against second and third string players and many players who are now either on NFL practice squad or are out of the NFL altogether.

This leaves the Packers very thin at edge rusher for at least the next three weeks. Obviously, Garvin and or Rivers will see some action as it is unlikely that Gary and Preston Smith will play every defensive snap in the coming weeks. While this gives the two young players an opportunity to show they can contribute on defense, it also means the Packers have no proven depth at the position.

The Packers did sign OLB LaDarius Hamilton off the Buccaneers practice squad to take Za’Darius Smith’s roster spot for the time being. The 6’3”, 260-pound former North Texas star has been in camp with the Cowboys and Bucs since coming out of college in 2020 but has yet to play in an NFL game. He had 17 career sacks at North Texas while playing defensive end. He has a good motor wasn’t afraid to challenge larger blockers in college from his defensive end position.

Hopefully, the injury to Za’Darius Smith is not a long-term issue. He must miss at least three games after being placed on the injured reserve. But Za’Darius is a key component of the Green Bay defense. He is the team’s best pass rusher and has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons picking up 13.5 sacks in a dominant 2019 season and 12.5 sacks in 2020.

In addition to his pass rushing prowess, the former Kentucky star is one of the emotional leaders of the defense and of the team in general. His presence on the sideline makes a difference to this team and his absence will surely be felt. This will also mark three fewer opportunities that Za’Darius Smith will have to learn Joe Barry’s defense.

Back injuries are tricky and they can take a long time to heal. Anybody who has dealt with a bad back knows you can feel fine one minute and then move in a “funny” way and be in pain again.

The Packers are hoping to have their best edge rusher back when it matters most, in the second half of the season and hopefully for the playoffs.

Right now, Green Bay still has two quality edge rushers in Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. But on paper, there would be a huge drop off if either of those players were to get injured and the backups had to play significant snaps.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (72)

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PatrickGB's picture

September 19, 2021 at 10:21 am

And I read that the team tried to trade for a linebacker this last week so maybe the injury to Z may be more long term and/or they aren’t too excited about who they have.

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GilMartin's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:24 am

Both are possible. Let's see where this goes. Hopefully, Z isn't out for too long.

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NickPerry's picture

September 19, 2021 at 06:40 pm

Just curious...Who did they try to trade for and where did you read it?

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Oppy's picture

September 19, 2021 at 07:23 pm

had read similar speculation early in the week from random national media outlets, don't recall which ones, but I though they were looking for ILB help.

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dobber's picture

September 20, 2021 at 08:30 am

This is what I'd heard.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 19, 2021 at 10:26 am

Well, if we score 3 points again we can blame it on Z’s injury.

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GilMartin's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:28 am

LOL. Or if we give up 38...Thanks for the comment, Leatherhead.

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Bure9620's picture

September 19, 2021 at 03:01 pm

It's true..The defense was bad but the offense did literally nothing to help the defense play any bit of complementary football. The game plan was bad and Aaron Rodgers was absolutely atrocious!! He was the worst starting QB in the league in week one by quite a bit. QBR of 13 and passer rating of 36...inexcusable. Trevor Lawrence was next worst at 72!! We had the worst QB play in the NFL and everyone bitches about defense.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 19, 2021 at 03:17 pm

That attitude isn’t going to help your popularity, but you aren’t wrong,

I’m going to believe last week was an anomaly for Rodgers, and that our defense will hold teams under the league average as long as the offense doesn’t have multiple turnovers. Rodgers is the best ever at protecting the rock and it’s been a big part of his success and I don’t believe he got bad at it over the summer.

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PearlyBakerBest's picture

September 20, 2021 at 03:23 pm

As I mentioned before, it doesn’t appear he put in the work it takes to be MVP of the league and as Swisch has mentioned, he looks considerably lighter than last year. Defense show up or not, I believe it is goingto be a long year.

Doing that interview with Erin that aired right before the first game of the season? Dude is not present.

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splitpea1's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:04 am

It's no small deal. Not only is ZDS the best player we have on the front end of the defense, I think he's just about the only leader we have on the entire unit. And Rashan Gary, where are you? Big things are expected of him this season, and now it's time to deliver.

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GilMartin's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:29 am

Z is a big loss, no doubt. I hope we get his talent and leadership back ASAP. Gary had a good game in Week 1 with 4 pressures in 20 drop backs. If he keeps those numbers over a season, he'll have a great year. Hope he has a good year and Z's return will probably help Gary even more. Thanks for the comment, splitpea1.

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splitpea1's picture

September 19, 2021 at 12:34 pm

Good game? If he keeps certain other numbers up, he'll have 0 sacks and 0 tackles for the entire season. Did those pressures lead to any interceptions? Give me a break. Maybe we can expect a little more from the 12th overall pick in his third year in terms of impact plays?

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Oppy's picture

September 19, 2021 at 07:35 pm

Generally speaking, if you average a full sack per game during the NFL season, you're in the converstation for DPOTY.

More context, Here's the number of NFL players that have chalked up 16 or more sacks in the regular season since the 2015 season:

6. Six players.

Maybe Rashan Gary lives up to his potential, maybe he doesn't. Either way, I think it would be good for you to go back and find my post about reasonable expectations being informed by a long term analysis of league-wide performance.

It is unreasonable to expect a player to have a sack in every game played. It is insane to suggest a player is a bust if they don't.

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splitpea1's picture

September 19, 2021 at 08:05 pm

I think you're reaching unreasonable conclusions about my comment concerning one game.

Now that Gary has a chance to start for at least a few games, let see him actualize some of that potential in the form of impact plays, including but not limited to sacks. Everyone wants to see him succeed.

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:21 am

Zadarius had 10 sacks total his first three seasons in the league. Patience.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:21 am

Thin at edge rusher? How about thin at CB? Thin at ILB. Thin at DL. Major changes need to take place with the need for a few surprise players to show well. Maybe Heflin, Stokes, Slayton, McDuffie, Previllion… they need to give them all a long look to see if they are any good. What we have now on D isn’t good enough.

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GilMartin's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:31 am

Depth on defense is an issue. Obviously, the loss of Z is a tough one for this team as he is the team's best edge rusher. We'll see how this effects things. Hopefully, some of the young players you mentioned can develop into contributors. Thanks for the comment, JohnnyLogan.

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Coldworld's picture

September 19, 2021 at 01:02 pm

Previlon is not with the team any more.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

September 19, 2021 at 06:32 pm

One or two more games of zero production from Lowry and Lancaster and he'll be back.

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JGPACK's picture

September 19, 2021 at 06:51 pm

I love your screen name, Johnny. Maybe I should back you up with screen name Mantilla

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JohnnyLogan's picture

September 20, 2021 at 09:33 am

Loved Felix

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Swisch's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:33 am

I love those Milwaukee Braves, even though I wasn't born until 1962 and only learned about them through my late dad -- who grew up near Hampton and Sherman on the north side.
Even my late mom from Cedarburg seemed to be upset about the team having moved to Atlanta, and she wasn't a big baseball fan.
I had a poster of Hank Aaron on my wall growing up in the 1970s (along with one of Bart Starr), even though the Braves had left for Atlanta in 1966 (and Starr retired in 1970).
In 6th grade in 1973, living in suburban Chicago, I made a decoupage of Starr for an art project. It involved cutting out a magazine photo of Starr and gluing it to a stained piece of wood as the background. My teacher singed the edges of the photo with a flame for artistic effect. I'm still hoping to find that treasure of mine someday.
(Please pardon another of my ramblings. I guess I'm the Grampa Simpson of CheeseheadTV.)
Nowadays, having unexpectedly moved an hour north of Atlanta a couple of years ago,, I'm enjoying the Brewers having perhaps their best regular season ever -- and am hoping we'll trounce the Braves if we meet them in the first round of the playoffs.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

September 20, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Switch if you’re the grandpa I’m the great grandpa. Saw lots of Johnny Logan in my all time favorite infield: Mathews, Logan, Schoendienst and Adcock.

You sound like a great fan.

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Tundraboy's picture

September 20, 2021 at 08:24 am

Sounds like we’re doomed, but who knows ,miracles happen. GPG

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jh9's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:34 am

After having the whole offseason to recover, Z’s back is so bad he can’t practice at all in training camp? In a year when he wanted a contract extension, he has a debilitating bad back? How does that improve his negotiating position? What are we to make of Z not voted a team captain? What are we to make of management placing him on IR?

I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth, but, to me, something else is going on.

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GilMartin's picture

September 19, 2021 at 11:36 am

I hope there's not something more going on, but we'll see. If there is, that means the front office has managed to alienate two of their best players during this offseason. Thanks for the comment, jh9.

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jh9's picture

September 19, 2021 at 12:01 pm

I think the public is being told one thing, while his teammates and management know the truth.

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CheesyTex's picture

September 19, 2021 at 01:23 pm

Don't know what the hell is going on, but it is beginning to smell like the Pack's leader on defense may have jumped on the bandwagon driven by its leader on offense.

I'm haunted by #12s words that HE is the only reason players would want to come to GB, and fear that Z believes that with 12 gone he doesn't want to be in GB. I know, the Pack cannot afford Z next year anyway, but it's possible the back issue is simply to avoid the wear and tear of one more season so he's healthier for what comes next.

Sure ready for all the crap to be over.

BTW, I disagree that the front office is the causal effect of alienating "... two of their best players...".

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jannes bjornson's picture

September 19, 2021 at 03:13 pm

Then get ready for mediocrity from the brain trust @ 1265 Lombo

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Difer's picture

September 19, 2021 at 01:07 pm

Smith will likely be very careful rehabbing his back. If he's wise, hel l sit out the remainder of the season, so he can be 100% when he starts with his new team.

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jont's picture

September 19, 2021 at 01:15 pm

I might be wrong, but I think I read something about a non-football injury early in pre-season.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

September 19, 2021 at 01:43 pm

He started camp on the NFI list. It's probably a workout related injury that is continuing to nag him.

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jurp's picture

September 19, 2021 at 05:52 pm

Just like Sean Jones in '97. I think Z's career is probably over. :(

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Hematite's picture

September 20, 2021 at 02:31 pm

I think Z's done in Green Bay and that's his own decision.

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MarkinMadison's picture

September 19, 2021 at 12:02 pm

Can someone name a team for me that has more than 3 proven edge rushers? New Orleans played the everyone including the ball boy at CB last week and they sure seemed fine. Yeah, the DL is thin. I agree. Without Kenny Clark they are screwed. Yeah, after Alexander you got a lot of question marks at CB. You know what, at some point the coaches need to prove that they can get players ready to play and put them into positions to succeed. I don't know what the hell we saw last week, but it was about a lot more than who is the 4th OLB.

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NickPerry's picture

September 19, 2021 at 06:43 pm

Man I can't upvote this comment enough!!

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Fabio's picture

September 20, 2021 at 04:41 am

Nice point!
I also add another thing:
When we look at the training ground in pre-season, a lot of people see great defensive talents who then suddenly melt at the first glimmer of sunshine and quickly disappear. I think the average level of quality of our players in D is very low so the shows we see from some players in training I don't think are real ..... then I agree that Sunday the offense sucked, but every time who does it there is never the D ready to save the ass of others !!
Gary must explode this season and there is no alternative to the investment that has been made on him !! and Preston must also bounce to justify the re-sign !! The failure of the D level of play is all about Gute and MLF !!
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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Todd's picture

September 20, 2021 at 07:52 am

Spot on!

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Swisch's picture

September 19, 2021 at 12:45 pm

It's hard to be patient -- it's even hard for me that the Packers aren't playing today -- but we are going to have to wait and see how the season develops.
That doesn't mean it isn't worth talking about from week to week, but I haven't given up on Joe Barry after just one game, nor our players on defense.
I haven't given up on Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers, either, or our other players on offense.
Whatever has happened up until now that maybe hasn't been handled all that well, can likely still be corrected with changes of attitude and a renewed determination to play good football.
***
It's likely that playing the Lions won't be all that revealing about who the Packers are this season, although it is an important piece of the puzzle that will become clearer with the passage of more games.
Two things seem especially important as of right now:
(1) The front office and the coaches should be the ones who know if any players are undermining the team with poor attitudes. It's up to them to address any such issues decisively by remotivating or removing any guys who are problems immediately. We don't want to find out in a month or two that there's been a malcontent dragging down the team without our management having the will to act with firmness and even finality.
(2) Whatever is going on behind the scenes that may be disruptive, each player on the Packers has to dedicate himself to playing his best football. Acknowledge the distractions, but then practice hard and play hard, Don't let anyone else derail your career. As far as the team, be part of the solution.
***
I sympathize with impatience. When I used to watch Speed Racer as a kid, I hated it when an episode was in two or three parts, and I had to wait until the next afternoon or longer to find out the ending.
What we can do is try to enjoy the multi-part series of the Packers over weeks and months (and fill in some of the in-between time rooting on the Brewers to the World Series, with a lot of players we hardly knew back in April).
I'm still high on the Packers having a lot of talent on offense and defense -- and look forward to us finding a few newer players who step up their games along the way.

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jurp's picture

September 19, 2021 at 05:58 pm

The FO can't get rid of Rodgers (the malcontent) without huge cap implications and probable death threats from "fans".

You actually LIKED Speed Racer? Wow. The kid in that series was effing annoying.

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Swisch's picture

September 19, 2021 at 06:27 pm

"And when the odds are against him,
and there's dangerous work to do,
you bet your life Speed Racer
will see it through."
***
Lighten up, jurp.

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Fabio's picture

September 20, 2021 at 04:47 am

Well said Swisch!
Even I occasionally let myself go to some criticism, but it is right to give all the players all the necessary possibilities. But above all, I think this season is very long and we will certainly not see the 13-3 we are used to, but which weren't too real after all. I hope that in the end of the season all the players will strike that "spark" which is fundamental to obtain the result that we all hope for.
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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Fabio's picture

September 20, 2021 at 04:49 am

Perhaps the spark could also be the defeat against NO !! I hope so with all my heart

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Swisch's picture

September 20, 2021 at 10:49 am

Thanks, Fabio. I'm glad to have you among us fans here at CheeseheadTV, all the way from Italy.
If the locker room for the Packers is in good shape as far as dedication and determination, we should be in good shape at the end of the season.
Even if it's not 13-3, if we make the playoffs we have a shot at a title.
We may have our concerns about the Packers from week to week -- and it seems good to comment on them sincerely -- but I always try to keep hoping for better.
Looking forward to discussing the Packers with you along the way.
P.S. I was just reading about a remarkable Italian woman who sadly died in 2012 at only 28 years old -- Chiara Corbella Petrillo (born the year I graduated from college) -- now being considered for Catholic sainthood. I'm hoping to be more like her.

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Fabio's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:24 am

She left a great testimony of faith (think of everything she has been through in her life !!!). Anyway I recommend a good reading on the history of Santa Caterina da Siena (I live a few miles from Siena). I think you may like it even more.
Greetings from Italy
GPG

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murf7777's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:08 am

How about 13-4 Fabio being there are 17 games this year. I know its hard to get used to.

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Fabio's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:18 am

You are definitely right!! I'm sorry. I hope I don't make new mistakes

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VinceL's picture

September 20, 2021 at 01:14 pm

I love your long, passionate lectures. We just need to try some new projects (that won’t pan out) wasting our time and patience. Hell, look how long we looked for King, and Jackson, and Sternberger to show significant improvement. For most young players if they haven’t got it after 3 years, they aren’t going to have it.

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Swisch's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:08 am

Thanks, Vince.
It's just that we never know who is going to be that guy who takes a leap forward.
Is there any possibility that Kevin King could become Casey Hayward if he was utilized in a different way? Not likely, but not out of the question.
***
Bart Starr and Paul Hornung were busts until Vince Lombardi came along in 1959.
It wasn't considered such a big deal for Starr to fail, since he was drafted way back in the 17th round; but Hornung was the first overall pick in 1957 as a Heisman Trophy winner out of Notre Dame, and, as I understand it, was a huge joke among Packers fans.
It seemed as though Hornung was close to a career in real estate back in Louisville when Lombardi found a way to get the most out of his abilities, which resulted in a hall-of-fame career.
***
As a general rule, though, it does seem as though three years is enough time to evaluate a player.
However, let's hope our coaches are able to find the exceptions to the rule.
***
Also -- just to make sure this comment is long enough ;-) -- I'm not ready to give up on Joe Barry after just one game, or even two or three.
He has been without one of our best defenders in Z. Smith; plus his starters didn't get any snaps together in preseason games, which may not have been his call.
All the best to you, Vince.

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

September 20, 2021 at 09:23 am

I haven't given up on Joe Barry either, because I never believed in him in the first place.

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nygary's picture

September 19, 2021 at 02:35 pm

Keeping players like Lowry, Lancaster, Burks, King , are bad decisions. If we lose to the lions I would shop Rogers now and get Love reps. People on this site will boo me, but if we lose that idea will grow. Hope we win but who knows. GPG

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jannes bjornson's picture

September 19, 2021 at 03:19 pm

I would fire low-ball and Barry, then reshuffle the deck and play for keeps. Gutedkunst is already on notice; Murphy should retire.

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Lphill's picture

September 19, 2021 at 04:17 pm

Not sure why Z played at all , let’s hope Heflin is active for the Lions , time to develop is now .

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packer132's picture

September 19, 2021 at 09:30 pm

Heflin is a run stuffer and over 300 lbs and Smith is a pass rusher and different position. Garvin and Rivers are the ones that need to step up. Also newly signed Hamilton.

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Coldworld's picture

September 20, 2021 at 08:08 am

I keep hearing that Garvin is great in practice, but never seems to show up in ones that are public. Perhaps it is confidence? Both of these are young players, perhaps snaps will help. I am skeptical, but I am more concerned about what Barry did with his front overall than them at this point.

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Swisch's picture

September 20, 2021 at 11:46 am

Let's hope La'Darius can help to compensate for the loss of Za'Darius.

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mbpacker's picture

September 19, 2021 at 04:29 pm

Wow, the Titanic just hit the iceberg so all is lost after one game. There is the possibility that nothing is going on behind closed doors and that we just ran into a hyped up Saint team and played horrible. Rodgers admitted that maybe they we feeling a bit full of themselves and a bit complacent . They are pros but human. Hopefully this is a jolt to the teeth and they can refocus , if in fact, that is what happened. The summer and off season with all this click-bate stuff going on ,that everyone knew what was going on with Rodgers. I can't go there; it's too exhausting just one week in. We will know soon enough if there is something to be worried about long term. I will cross that bridge when we get there. We need to beat the Lions and get the W. One week at a time. Look what happened to the Saints this week. It's a week to week league as they say. GPG.

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NickPerry's picture

September 19, 2021 at 06:53 pm

I was thinking same thing. So are we to believe the Carolina Panthers with Sam Darnold are now one of the Top 5 teams because they beat the Saints.

Week one is ALWAYS goofy as hell and you can NEVER take what happens in week one as a ,measuring stick of what might happen he rest of the year. Unscouted looks, lack of playing together in preseason, or Aaron Rodgers drama all summer.

The Packers may be in trouble but I prefer to give it a few weeks before declaring ANYONE Champs.

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Fabio's picture

September 20, 2021 at 04:54 am

I fully agree with what you say and it is a sign that you are a balanced person (and it is important to make correct assessments)
The only thing that worries me is that, after last year's season finale and with all the criticism that has been made of D, I would have expected the players to enter the field with another impetus ....
Let's hope it's a defeat that will make us change our skin.
Greetings from Italy

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Coldworld's picture

September 20, 2021 at 08:14 am

If the Packers are in trouble I do not think it’s the roster. That didn’t go from good to bad in a week. What shocked was the attitude, preparation and other aspects of good coaching and team chemistry. Those can scuttle a team, but some of that likely reflects a botched preseason. My fear is Rodgers state of mind, LaFleur’s weaknesses and Barry’s competence (Drayton is hardly proven either) are all things that may remain Achilles heels. Achilles lost with only one of those, we may have two or three.

Hopefully we will see at least one of my fears allayed tonight, but if none are, free fall is not impossible.

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GP1's picture

September 19, 2021 at 09:02 pm

it may be a week to week League but statistically if you lose the first 2 games you do not play post season.
Time is now.

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stockholder's picture

September 19, 2021 at 10:05 pm

Turn the clock back. The 2020 draft was why you finish building the DEFENSE. Instead of trying to trade Rodgers for picks now. He could of taken 2 Lbs. And a wr instead of cutting guys. Now Gutey has to come up with money. And my bet is he spends it on bad backs. And Over the hill guys.

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calabasa's picture

September 19, 2021 at 10:44 pm

*cough cough cobb*

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Dzehren's picture

September 19, 2021 at 10:20 pm

Front office knew this 60 days ago but decided to die nothing.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 20, 2021 at 02:24 am

I don't have much to say. I do remember Bakh saying he liked taking reps against Garvin because Garvin was so strong. I guess I will hang my hopes on that.

I gather Garvin is awful on STs so he didn't play the last 8 games with GB having Z, P and Gary at OLB.

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nostradanus's picture

September 20, 2021 at 09:28 am

If the Zen master Rogers craps the bed tonight, the boo’s will rain down on him like the ash & lava of Pompeii 👁
ND

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PatrickGB's picture

September 20, 2021 at 10:26 am

It’s only one game but I am not impressed with Barry. At least with Pettine’s defense it got better as the year went on. So maybe Barry will too. But, to me, it’s simply a problem with talent. The defense has a handful of good players. Yet “It takes all eleven”. I count about five or six.

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stockholder's picture

September 20, 2021 at 12:13 pm

Pettine needed two players in 2020. A guy to replace Greene/Sullivan etc. . And 1 at ILB. The 2020 draft had two of them that made the NFL all rookie team. Queen and Chinn. Maggie wanted Chinn. I wanted Queen- not Love. Pettine would not have resign if he got both. instead Gute may just have put the nail in Rodgers coffin. And the packers future.

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dobber's picture

September 20, 2021 at 04:03 pm

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White92's picture

September 20, 2021 at 05:58 pm

Cornering the market on the Dariuses

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ImaPayne's picture

September 21, 2021 at 07:12 pm

The Smith Bros ran out of gas last year. Came on as gang busters but towards the end of last year looked gassed and beaten up. Wasn't Gary the great new hope going to take over? Apparently that hope faded also. He's not even playing full time with Zad out.

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