Packers Pass Rush Has Been Outstanding But the Lack of Depth Is Troubling

The Green Bay Packers defense has been doing a good job of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the first two games of the season. The three players supplying most of the juice are edge rushers Preston Smith and Rashan Gary and defensive lineman Kenny Clark. The key question will be whether they can keep up this high level of production throughout the course of a 17-game season and hopefully a playoff run.

Preston Smith is tied for the team lead in sacks with two through the first two games of the season. He has also done a consistent job of getting pressure on the quarterback. He has been credited with eight pressures by pro-football-reference.com along with three hurries and five quarterback hits as well as two tackles for loss.

Smith is looking to break a pattern that has seen him have productive seasons in odd-numbered years and disappointing years in even-numbered seasons. In 2016, he had only 4.5 sacks, he only had four in 2018 and four more in 2020, a season that he showed up for training camp out of shape and had a disappointing year for the Packers.

In odd numbered years, Preston Smith had eight sacks in 2015, eight more in 2017, a career-high 12 in 2019 and then nine in 2021.

Gary is also off to a strong start to the season when it comes to pressuring opposing passers. The University of Michigan alum also has two sacks so far in 2022 as he looks to surpass last season’s career-high of 9.5 which he recorded a year ago.

He has already recorded eight pressures, five quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. Keep in mind the numbers for Smith and Preston include a game against the Bears when Justin Fields threw only 11 passes and was sacked an additional three times.

Clark has yet to record a sack this season, but he is getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks at an All Pro level in the first two weeks. Clark has been credited with four pressures, one hurry and three quarterback hits through two games along with one tackle for loss.

Statistically, Clark is putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks at a rate as high as All Pro Aaron Donald who is widely considered the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL in recent seasons.

The issue facing the Packers, however, remains the lack of depth on the edge. In the first two games this season, Preston Smith was on the field for 87 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That is the highest percentage of his NFL career. By comparison, last season, Smith played in 16 of the Packers 17 games and was on the field for 68 percent of the Packers defensive snaps.

Gary has been on the field for 83 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. His previous career high was 68 percent of defensive snaps which happened last season.

The rest of the edge rushers on the team have not made an impact thus far. Rookie Kingsley Enagbare has played 14 total defensive snaps in two games and has yet to pressure opposing passers in any measurable way. He has been credited with two tackles thus far this season.

Jonathan Garvin has been on the field for 15 total snaps in two games this season and has also yet to have any impact as a pass rusher. He has also yet to be credited with a tackle either on defense or special teams.

Tipa Galeai has only seen action on special teams thus far this season and has yet to take a snap on defense. Last season, he had one sack, one quarterback hit and two hurries in seven games.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry should be pleased with the play of his three leading pass rushers. They have done a good job of getting to the quarterback and disrupting their timing. One of those games was against Justin Fields, one of the more dangerous running quarterbacks in the league.

But if Smith and Gary are on the field for roughly 85 percent of the defensive snaps, will they tire and wear down as the season progresses? Will they still be able to play at such a high level late in the season or in the playoffs if they are on the field so often? Will they also be able to stay healthy?

The Packers coaching staff needs to find a solution to the lack of depth on the edge before disaster strikes at this position. The NFL is a passing league and the Packers have three outstanding pass rushers. Now they need to figure out how to keep them fresh and effective.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (44)

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Lphill's picture

September 22, 2022 at 11:17 am

in the Bears game Quay Walker lined up as an outside linebacker also I don't know the stats on that.

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mrtundra's picture

September 22, 2022 at 01:07 pm

I do not know those stats, either. I think they may line up Quay and Devondlre to key on Fournette. Not sure what Barry's plan is, but we have to stop the run better than we have been, this season.

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Fubar's picture

September 22, 2022 at 11:45 am

While I'm not gaga over the pass rush, its okay. Just okay. But were not rushing just four people. If we rushed four I dont think it would be effective at all. Its a long season, lets talk pass rush at the end of it.
I still say Gary has a penchant to go missing in games, especially if he gets a sack early, its like okay time off. He certainly cant set and edge and is getting picked on on his side the ball so other teams no something too.

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 22, 2022 at 01:26 pm

If only he could stay on the field and be as good as Danielle Hunter amirite?

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Leatherhead's picture

September 22, 2022 at 11:55 am

I think against Chicago, particularly, the emphasis was on keeping that rabbit in the pocket.

Brady will present an interesting challenge this week. He's GOAT-fast at getting rid of the ball.

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Coldworld's picture

September 22, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Definitely. Gary was being used as the flusher and Smith the catcher for Fields regularly. Walker was spying at least at times too.

I agree with you, that’s how we have to play a guy like Fields who is not only as likely to run as pass and is a threat doing so, but I’d actually more of a threat with the pass once he’s flushed. Garvin and the back ups barely played in Chicago and only in garbage time and “prevent” mode, so I take nothing from that.

The Vikings game was not impressive on many levels and a big one was the amount of time Cousins had so often. The alternating of Smith and Gary with a back up was largely a failure that we avoided by dominating the time of possession last week.

This week will be a big test. It’s unlikely that we win the time of possession. That means we likely won’t see Smith and Gary together that often. We are going to have to alternate, particularly in that heat. We are going to need the interior to do more. If we won’t blitz, as seems likely, Slaton, Lowry and Reec not only need to be a big part of handling Fournette, but to be collapsing the pocket with Clark.

That’s asking a lot, since I think the Bucs will run hard and often. This might be a good game to elevate Heflin to increase the rotation. Yet it’s also the best way to throw Brady off. He will get rid of the ball before most edge guys can get him. Barry has a challenge here. It’s not obvious how he will successfully answer it but, for this game, a heavier front rather than the OLBs may be a help. Gary may end up in the middle at times, but I’d want us to think about rushing Walker too. I want Reed just told to get after the QB. That his best attribute anyway.

Reed/Lowry and Slaton/Hefflin would make me a lot happier along with Clark and Gary in a central D line rotation. I’m ignoring Ford in favor of Heflin because he wasn’t effective stuffing the run in camp. He would also be an option as the second run specialist in theory.

None of that detracts from agreeing with the notion that a Mercillus type would be a big plus, perhaps the best addition we could make. I don’t see any that excite me available at the moment (Mercillus hadn’t shaken free this time last year either). I don’t think a pure designated rusher type helps much in this D. I just don’t think this week that’s the necessary focus or missing ingredient.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:23 pm

I think signing Jason Pierre Paul would fill the missing piece in this defense. Also, the D-lineman except for Kenny Clark need to do more. It will be easier to collapse the pocket and stop Fournette because the Bucs' o-line is REALLY beat up and Fournette is not at full health.

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Guam's picture

September 23, 2022 at 08:04 am

Concerned about the heat and humidity in Florida this time of year - Smith and Gary can't play as much as they did against the Bears in the heat at Tampa Bay. Enagbare and Garvin will need to play more.

I think you hit the nail on the head CW with your observations about the interior DL. The Packers will need more from Reed, Slatyon, Lowery and Wyatt in Tampa Bay. I really would like to see Wyatt start to step up and assert himself. He is from Georgia and should be used to the heat. Now is his time!

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Coldworld's picture

September 23, 2022 at 08:52 am

Wyatt could be an interesting option as a 4th rushing DL on the end. A sort of extra heavy hand down OLB.

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mrtundra's picture

September 23, 2022 at 08:19 am

Another thing about the vikings game is that Kark threw, in rhythm, to his targets, when he was pressured by our DL. He got rid of the ball quickly, when he saw things breaking down. I wish Rodgers could get rid of the ball, more quickly, when the pressure is on. He seems to look for every option and then he tucks the ball and runs into a defender, for a loss. Find a rhythm, hit an open guy underneath and move the chains. GO PACK, GO!!!

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murf7777's picture

September 23, 2022 at 08:53 am

CW….the heat will be a factor and you’re probably right about the rotations of the DL and OLB’s. Although, I think they will start out with Gary and Smith for the first series to get the game started in the right direction.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 23, 2022 at 02:05 pm

I totally agree. All of our d-lineman not named Kenny Clark need to do more. That will be what will win or lose us the game. With Jason Pierre Paul gone, the Packers could explore reuniting with Blake Martinez and converting him to OLB.

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murf7777's picture

September 23, 2022 at 08:50 am

Your right on, Brady is the best I’ve ever seen at getting rid of the ball against a blitz or a quick OL breakdown. He will present a great challenge.

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cheesehead1's picture

September 22, 2022 at 12:18 pm

We must limit Fournette and protect 12. Time to finally win one in Tampa.

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PeteK's picture

September 22, 2022 at 12:34 pm

Absolutely, we have been dismal in run D. The retooling of Bucs O line will help us in this game. Gary should dominate against their backup LT.

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 22, 2022 at 01:27 pm

Except that's usually Preston's side.

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PeteK's picture

September 22, 2022 at 03:27 pm

How about this: Clark will dominate backup C. I don't have to deal with LT or RT. LOL

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:14 pm

That will be easier because the Bucs are starting a backup center, a backup rookie LG, and a 3rd-string LT. Fournette is also not at full health; he's been having some hamstring issues.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:14 pm

That will be easier because the Bucs are starting a backup center, a backup rookie LG, and a 3rd-string LT. Fournette is also not at full health; he's been having some hamstring issues.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:14 pm

Also, Jenkins, after shaking off the rust last week, should be better this week too. Yosh has been great also.

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 22, 2022 at 01:33 pm

The Ravens were in talks with JPP this week. I think an old guy off a shitty team is probably the way they go again this year. Maybe a small trade at the deadline.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 03:59 pm

Jason Pierre Paul is our guy!

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 22, 2022 at 05:12 pm

Not if the Ravens sign him. They have real pass rush problems and likely would be willing to pay him more.

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Booner's picture

September 22, 2022 at 01:46 pm

They need to send Walker or Amos on 3rd and long and feast on some smoked GOAT for dinner!

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:13 pm

Yes! This is EXACTLY what I have been saying for several months. The bread and butter of a defense is PRESSURING THE QUARTERBACK. The Packers cannot do that without Gary and Smith. That is why the Packers NEED to add depth at OLB. I highly suggest signing Jason Pierre-Paul. He is old, but is a MASSIVE upgrade over Garvin and Enagbare. In a rotational role with a smaller workload, Pierre-Paul can be more productive and provide a consistent output of pressure (he was a starter in Tampa). He would be affordable on a 1-year deal, too. I think that the Packers have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from signing JPP.

Another option for the Packers would be to trade Dean Lowry to the Washington Commanders for DT Daron Payne. Payne is a substantial upgrade over Lowry and is much better at defending the run. We could also give them a 3rd-4th-5th rounder in compensation, too. What would you all think of that?

We could also trade Lowry and then sign a free agent DT like Ndamukong Suh or Sheldon Richardson.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:58 pm

" Payne is a substantial upgrade over Lowry and is much better at defending the run."

If Payne is such an upgrade over Lowry, why would Washington make that trade? They're going to downgrade the talent on their DL just so we can upgrade ours?

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 03:13 pm

Payne is in the final year of his contract and has been floated as a potential trade candidate. We would also offer draft capital in return, something in the range of a 3rd-4th-5th round pick

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 22, 2022 at 03:25 pm

Lowry is also in the final year of his contract.

Payne is 25 years old and a former 1st round pick (13th overall) who's 5th year option was picked up. Lowry is a former late 4th round pick and 3 years older than Payne, who you've already acknowledged would be a significant downgrade. That trade would make no sense for Washington.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 03:59 pm

Payne wants an extension and Washington isn't willing to do it with all of the other people they've got on their front 7. The point is, Washington is trying to see what draft capital they can get for Payne in a potential trade, as he will be a free agent next year, and Lowry would just be a bonus for Washington. If you read Commanders news, you will see

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 22, 2022 at 04:08 pm

Well he'd be looking for an extension from GB as well. Looking at the SC for '23 and extensions looming for Gary, Jenkins, etc., I just don't see how that happens. But we'll see. I'm always open to moves that make the team better.

JPP just signed with Baltimore.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 04:20 pm

Would it be bad for us to extend Payne in a potential trade? The guy already has 2 sacks in 2 games for the 2022 season, and our d-line is thin next year, as Lowry and Reed will be free agents. Getting him would give Kenny some true help on the D-line, another star, as Reed, Lowry, and Wyatt have thus far disappointed (Wyatt understandably, though). The Packers are in a win-now mode, and this would take the front 7 to another level. In what could very well be Aaron Rodgers' final season, I think Gutey should consider and look into every possible move.

I've looked and I think that the Packers can clear out about a maximum of 48 mil in cap space for 2023. However, that would include trading/cutting Aaron Jones and trading/cutting D-Bak post-June 1st.

As far as Jason Pierre-Paul goes, that's a bummer.

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Packers0808's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:40 pm

On another not you have 4 that is 4 WR of the Packers NOT practicing today! Hmmm scary! # Ham string and one illness!

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 22, 2022 at 02:51 pm

Cobb should be fine once he's better. Lazard was questionable at the time of the Bears game. We'll see, though...time to involve Tonyan, Doubs, Amari, Winfree, and Fulgham more

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PatrickGB's picture

September 22, 2022 at 06:06 pm

Doubs, Amari, Winfrey and Fulgham will never strike fear on opposing defenses. And that especially true for the Bucs. For all the talk about Tampa Bay missing key players, we have our own version of that.

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Coldworld's picture

September 23, 2022 at 09:03 am

Doubs could if you can get him the ball. I think Toure could too. Cobb, Lazard and probably Watkins don’t strike fear in anyone. Watkins might still have it, he might not, but the others are good receivers not game breakers.

The only fear worthy players are Watson, Doubs and maybe Toure and Watkins. The first 3 havnt done it yet snd the last one not in an age. They need to prove that they are, and that requires them to be given the opportunity and in plays where there is a chance to break one, not get 5 to 10 yards. Higher risk but greater potential to stress a D. The problem is, this isn’t a Favre team that would be willing to go down in flames if unleashing them didn’t work. We would prefer to take the known and hope it’s enough.

I’m not saying that the lower risk/reward approach isn’t a better odds bet, just noting that the roster is actually of a kind that may urge the former since the threat from the mainstays is limited.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 22, 2022 at 05:02 pm

I think that this is to rest the vets…..Lazard, Watkins, Cobb….while getting extra work for the youngsters.

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Packers0808's picture

September 22, 2022 at 05:24 pm

i hope and think you are correct. Would be really odd that many WR out same time.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 22, 2022 at 05:40 pm

Lazard is 26. Watkins is 29. Neither played in the preseason. I'm sure they need rest after 2 games.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 22, 2022 at 06:44 pm

Of course you don’t, but it’s totally possible that the people who actually know stuff gave them time to rest up because they thought it was a good idea.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 22, 2022 at 08:07 pm

So, our veteran receivers need to rest up from practice after 2 games, while they're facing one of our chief rivals for home field advantage, and our punt returner has to be in mid season form before he can be expected to field punts cleanly.

Got it. Thanks for the clarification.

No wonder we've crapped out in the playoffs the last three years. Can you imagine Holmgren putting up with this nonsense?

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PatrickGB's picture

September 22, 2022 at 06:08 pm

Hammys are tricky and often linger. This is more than just a rest issue.

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jannes bjornson's picture

September 22, 2022 at 08:39 pm

That's right and they are prepping for the Heat/Humidity. Rest the legs and stretch out.

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Guam's picture

September 23, 2022 at 07:58 am

Lazard and Watkins have mild hamstring problems - hence the rest. Hopefully that's enough to have them ready for Sunday.

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Coldworld's picture

September 23, 2022 at 09:07 am

I hope not because that would invite league sanction. You can elect not to have a player practice at any time, it’s called a rest day, but you can’t doctor an injury report.

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