How Packers’ run defense is keeping Green Bay in games

Mike Daniels and the Packers' run defense is stifling opponents' rushing attacks. Nathan Jahnke explains how.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

How Packers’ run defense is keeping Green Bay in games

Through the Packers’ rough middle of the season, one thing that has consistently kept Green Bay in games is the great play of their run defense.

15.9 percent of the time, when the Packers have faced a designed run, they’ve made a tackle for a loss—the third-best rate in the league. On Thursday against the Lions, that rate was 32 percent. In recent weeks, they’ve held Matt Forte to 2.9 yards per carry, and Adrian Peterson to 3.5 yards per carry, with neither player topping 50 yards. Over their last five games, no player has topped 70 rushing yards against them.

The biggest key to the Packers’ success against the run this season has been 3-4 defensive end Mike Daniels. He has 21 run stops on the year, which is fifth-best for his position. He has a 91.5 run defense grade, which is fourth-best for all interior defenders, placing him right in between Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt on the leaderboard. Against the Lions, within the last two minutes of the game he had two tackles for losses, which helped get the ball back to the Packers’ offense to finish off the game. He had three tackles for losses total in the game, although there were also a few plays where the Lions were able to successfully block him, which hurt his grade.

The other big reason the Packers were able to stop the Lions’ run is the play of their safeties.. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had two tackles for short gains, and another play where he forced a cut. Morgan Burnett had a tackle for a loss, one for no gain, and another for a short gain. While he had a few poor plays early in the game, he also had a forced cut and a good block avoided to make up for it.

It wasn’t just Thursday night that the Packers’ safeties have performed well—it’s been all season. Clinton-Dix has 17 run stops on the year, which is fifth-most for all safeties. The four players above him have an average of six missed tackles each (in the run game alone), where Clinton-Dix only has one missed tackle against the run. His run defense grade is the best among all safeties this year. Burnett has a run-stop percentage of 8.0 percent, which is third-best for safeties, and he also only has one missed tackle on the year against the run. On a per game basis, Burnett has the third-highest run defense grade for safeties on the year.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Packers run defense gets even better as they finish off their playoff push. Their lowest graded player against the run has been Nate Palmer, but rookie Jake Ryan has taken over for him at inside linebacker. Palmer didn’t have a single snap against the Lions on defense. Their second-lowest player against the run, Micah Hyde, has been falling down the depth chart due to the good play of their rookie cornerbacks. Veteran Letroy Guion has the third-lowest grade, and his playing time has decreased each of the past five weeks. Julius Peppers is fourth-lowest, and his playing time in run defense situations has also been on the decline.

The Packers offense started to click late in Thursday night’s game. If they can match their offense of old with this new improved run defense, they could do some real damage when the postseason arrives.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • brewers_rule

    As a Packer fan, I struggle to remember the last time a team of ours needed the defense to carry the offense. Probably pre-Favre.