Through two games, the one phase of the game the Green Bay Packers can hang their hat on is their run defense.
The Packers enter this week’s slate of games ranked No. 1 in rushing yards allowed per game and No. 1 in rushing yards allowed per attempt. Green Bay is allowing 39.0 rushing yards per game. Only Pittsburgh (50.5) is within 25 yards of the Packers’ figure, and only seven teams are allowing less than half of Green Bay’s average. The Packers are yielding just 1.63 yards per carry. Seattle is a distant second at 2.84 per carry and only two other teams have given up less than twice Green Bay’s per-carry rate.
But the Packers suffered a blow against Minnesota when one of their two veteran defensive linemen, Letroy Guion, suffered a knee sprain. He almost certainly will miss Sunday’s game against Detroit, the Packers’ final one before their Week 4 bye. That leaves the Packers with only standout Mike Daniels as a proven, experienced performer on the defensive line.
“It’s always a big loss to lose one of your starters, especially somebody who’s as effective as Letroy,” Daniels said after the game. “But the young guys, they’re pulling their weight and they’re doing a heck of a job. We just have to continue to push them to get better.”
Against Minnesota, Guion played only eight of 58 snaps (14 percent). To pick up the slack, Daniels played 42 snaps (72 percent), rookie first-round pick Kenny Clark played 38 (66 percent), Datone Jones played 34 (59 percent) on the defensive line and outside linebacker, and first-year player Christian Ringo and rookie Dean Lowry played six snaps apiece (10 percent).
Clark, who played just nine snaps in the opener at Jacksonville, did well in extended snaps, playing a key role in Green Bay smothering Minnesota’s powerhouse running game. He played with discipline, strength and lateral agility.
“You see signs of what Kenny can do,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “Those young guys have to grow up in a hurry because we need them. I think Kenny will play better this week. I think you’ll see him progressively get better game by game.”
Jones, the first-round pick in 2013, will play a key role in filling the void. That wasn’t the plan entering the season.
At midseason last year, the Packers moved Jones off the defensive line and into the elephant role, which means he plays outside linebacker in normal down-and-distance situations but defensive tackle on pass-rushing downs. By necessity against Minnesota, Jones played a considerable number of snaps at defensive end in the base defense. Until Guion is healthy and Mike Pennel returns from a four-game suspension, the Packers will need more from Jones, Clark, Lowry and Ringo.
By allowing 1.4 yards per carry vs. Minnesota, that young group is off to a good start.
“That’s very encouraging,” Daniels said. “That was a tough, veteran offensive line, too, against one of the best running backs to ever play this game, and the other guys aren’t slouches, either. I see that as very positive and we look forward to watching those guys continue to grow.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.