Pack is All In on Savage

Safety's bounce back is key factor in defensive expectations.

Like many of you, I get my offseason Packers fix by rewatching games from the past season.  I only watch the wins.  I seldom review the losses.  They are hard enough to deal with at the time.  Why rip off those bandages again? 

It’s interesting to me how, when seeing these games again, one or two players catch your attention, either for how well they are playing, or for how badly.  Sometimes both.  The other day I happened to be watching Green Bay’s week fifteen victory over the Ravens.  The player I kept noticing was safety Darnell Savage.  For most of the contest, he was getting absolutely roasted by the Ravens fine tight end Mark Andrews.  Andrews had a huge game, ten catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns.  Most all of his receptions came with Savage in coverage.   When the third year veteran played back, Andrews would just cut in front of him and cross the middle.  Savage would be too late to the spot to stop the completion.  When the defensive back came up to try to play him tighter, Andrews easily won off the line of scrimmage and got open. 

However, later in the game, running back Latavious Murray burst through a gaping hole in the Packers’ defensive front, and bolted into the secondary.  From that point there was just one defender between him and an open path for a long touchdown run.  Savage was one-on-one with Murray in the open field.  He beautifully anticipated the ball carrier’s cut, lowered his body, led with his shoulder, and made a touchdown-saving textbook tackle.   

Late in the fourth quarter, Green Bay had blown a 31-17 lead.  Back-up quarterback Tyler Huntley had just led the Ravens to another score to make it 31-30 with 42 seconds left to play.  Baltimore coach John Harbaugh elected to go for two to try to win the game.  Huntley rolled to his right, again looking for Andrews in the corner of the end zone.  On this play, Savage was not directly covering the Ravens tight end.  But he quickly diagnosed the play, got a great jump on the pass, and managed to get his fingertips on the ball to help deflect it out of Andrews’ reach.  Game saved.  Packers win. 

That up and down performance is a microcosm of Darnell Savage’s three year career in green and gold.  The former first round draft pick is a tremendous athlete who can demonstrate great anticipation and instinct.  There are times he even does something that reminds you of, dare I say it, the great Charles Woodson.  But then there are all too many occasions where he seems to get caught flat footed in coverage, or misses badly on a tackle, or drops what should be a sure fire interception.   The inconsistent nature of his play has many fans wondering if its time to look elsewhere for a quality safety to partner with steady Adrian Amos. 

The Packers, however, have no such concerns.  Last April they did not hesitate to pick up the fifth year option of the ex-Maryland star.  According to Spotrac, the Packers will have to pay Savage just under eight million dollars for that extra season in 2023.  "Darnell Savage is a special talent" says safeties coach Ryan Downard.  "I think Darnell has the talent to be an elite player in this league......he is incredibly intelligent.  He is among the best I've been around in the ability to retain information."  

Number 26 appeared headed for stardom following the 2020 campaign.  He finished with a most impressive stat line:  In fifteen games he had four picks, twelve passes defensed, 75 tackles, and three tackles for loss.  The completion percentage against his coverage was 56 percent, and the quarterback rating against him was 67.3.  Those are the numbers of a budding star.  He was all over the field, finding the ball, wreaking havoc on screen plays and short crosses.     

But Savage appeared to be one of the very few players, maybe the only one, who did not seem to flourish under the new Joe Barry defense.  While guys like De’Vondre Campbell, Dean Lowry and Rasul Douglas revived their careers under Barry’s system, Savage looked hesitant, uncertain at times.  Despite playing in all seventeen games in 2021, his stats declined noticeably.  He had just two interceptions, twelve fewer tackles.  The completion percentage against him increased to just under 65 percent, and his opposing quarterback rating ballooned to 117.4 (Pro Football Reference). 

Yet he has received unflagging public support from Matt LaFleur and the other coaches.  They seem convinced 2021 was an aberration, and Savage’s ascension to stardom is inevitable. "He cares so much" adds Downard, "that he takes great pride in not making the same mistake twice.  I look for him to just keep getting better and better and better."

Let's hope he's right.  Savage's bounce back will be a key piece if the Green Bay defense is to fulfill the skyrocketing expectations for the unit in the coming year.  Especially since the team is woefully thin on talent behind him on the depth chart. 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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6 points

Comments (12)

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NickPerry's picture

June 27, 2022 at 06:49 am

"Like many of you, I get my offseason Packers fix by rewatching games from the past season. I only watch the wins. I seldom review the losses. They are hard enough to deal with at the time."

I'm right there with you Ken...WHY in the hell would I ever want to watch the Packers lose...Again. I know many of you go back and watch what went wrong and I thank you all for that! Me, I don't have the stomach for that. I STILL can't watch the 1998 playoff vs the 49ers when Jerry Rice OBVIOUSLY fumbles the ball but the Ref's ruled him down. The 4th and 26th game vs the Eagles...UGH! Or the 2007 NFCCG against the Giants...Why Brett why? Or the 2014 NFCCG in Seattle...Two HUGE Special Team gaffs to help seal the Packers fate...Sound Familiar? Nope that's not for me. But I remember the 2 point conversion play and watched over and over and over again. Savage made a great play and saved the game for GB.

I for one am glad Savage's 5th year was picked up. I think he'll play much closer to the 2020 version we saw the last 8 games or so of the season than the Savage we saw in 2021. I like his skill-set and I like it even more when paired with his running mate Amos. Smash has become one of my favorite players and one I really hope the Packers keep past 2022. If Savage plays like he CAN, and Amos is just Amos, this IS the best secondary in the NFL on quite possibly the NFL's best defense.

9 points
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mrtundra's picture

June 27, 2022 at 08:20 am

Name a DB, any DB, who doesn't get roasted by Mark Andrews. Andrews, IMO, is the best TE in the NFL. He is Lamar Jackson's #1 target, on any given play. Savage is a good player, for us. Yes, he has to go up against great players, on occasion. That does not spell disaster for GB or for Savage. Our DBs are some of the best in the league and this year, we will show the rest of the league what we already know. GO PACK, GO!!!

1 points
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dobber's picture

June 27, 2022 at 09:40 am

I think--well, hope--that Savage's 2021 was more a result of the change from Pettine to Barry and the adjustments that came with that shift. With an improved supporting cast and another year in the defense, I don't think we'll need to worry about his play.

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NickPerry's picture

June 27, 2022 at 04:59 pm

That's what I was thinking too dobber. Year one in another system probably had a little something to do with it too. Amos wasn't as good in 2021 as he was in 2020 either per PFF IIRC.

The Packers are getting really THREE players they didn't have on the defense for most of last year, and they all effect Savages job on some level. Getting Jarie Alexander back will be back and adding Wyatt and Walker only made them faster, stronger, and better. Those 3 alone will have a effect on all 3 levels of the defense.

2 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

June 28, 2022 at 04:14 am

Maybe they had him doing different assignments but the coverages didn't change all that much compared to 2020. They played around a 100 less snaps of cover 2 and about 50 more of cover 3 and cover 6.

I think he's best playing the robber role, plays well in the box and struggles occasionally deep, which he was very good at in the 2nd half of 2020. If he can regain that form the secondary will be in great shape. I'd still like to see them add a solid deep player that would allow him and Amos to play up more.

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egbertsouse's picture

June 27, 2022 at 10:05 am

Never review losses? Wow! Well, I give you points for honesty but take points for the pure, unaldulterated homer nonsense that constitute your writing. I know this is a fan site but, still, don’t you think something worth writing about might appear from reviewing a loss?

-3 points
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PatrickGB's picture

June 27, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Savage is a talented player. As the article suggests, his struggles may be due to his overthinking the situation or confusion over the proper coverage. For DB’s it’s often more about knowing what to do and quick reaction. He definitely has the speed with his legs. It’s the mental speed and reaction that he may have struggled with. The new linebackers may be able to cover TE’s and allow the nickel back to cover closer to the line with the safety in the middle. I think that is Barry’s defensive plan and savage struggled with its implementation. And frankly, we don’t have much depth behind him.

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stockholder's picture

June 27, 2022 at 01:58 pm

He is a talent. But he's lazy. Procrastinates. And his effort at times; matches a lighted pumpkin. We need him to become the game changer everyone expected.

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Swisch's picture

June 27, 2022 at 02:23 pm

I'm hopeful the Downard projection about Savage's upward trajectory is accurate.
Thanks, Ken, for the insightful article.

3 points
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ricky's picture

June 27, 2022 at 05:18 pm

As always, sometimes a player can take more time to adjust than others. Nick Collins didn't become really good until his third or fourth season. Then he excelled. Could the same thing happen with Savage? Yes. Whether it will happen will depend a lot on whether he buys into the new system, or waits and tries to find a new team in FA that has a scheme he likes better.

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PhantomII's picture

June 27, 2022 at 08:11 pm

I noticed Huntley was a pretty darn good backup QB that should be starting in the NFL ASAP. I also noticed how nice it must be to have a big brawler TE who kicked our ass all over the field. We don't have a TE like that...Wish we did. I'm not crazy about TE's anyway especially blocking because it only means the OL is not big and nasty enough to get the blocking done. Guys like Andrews torching others defense is where it's at.

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PackAttack4155's picture

June 28, 2022 at 09:54 am

I like Savage, he’s been pretty good overall, with stretches of solid play but stretches of inconsistency as well. I hope the Packers are all in on bringing back Amos for, at least, another two years after his contract expires at the end of the 2022 season. I get the feeling Savage’s play worsens without the criminally underrated Amos playing alongside him.

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