We saw a much improved Green Bay Packers defense in 2019, but one area that they need to be better at is against tight ends in coverage.
With Mike Pettine in his second season as defensive coordinator, the offseason additions that included The Smiths and Adrian Amos, along with the development of young players like Jaire Alexander, we saw this Green Bay Packers’ defense take a big step forward in 2019.
No more was winning and losing solely on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. Instead, the defense was able to help the offense secure several wins last season.
Overall, the defensive unit gave up the ninth fewest points per game in the NFL, they got after the quarterback exceptionally well, and forced turnovers. When specifically looking at their pass defense, they finished as the 10th best by DVOA according to Football Outsiders.
However, one area in particular that has to be buttoned up is their play against tight ends.
We saw several tight ends have some of their better games of the season when facing Green Bay. Zach Ertz hauled in seven receptions for 65 yards while Darren Waller totaled 126 yards with two touchdowns.
Then we saw Travis Kelce targeted eight times for 63 yards with a touchdown, and George Kittle would total 129 yards with a touchdown as well. Lastly, we saw Greg Olsen make eight receptions on ten targets for 98 yards in their Week 9 matchup.
Sure, those are some of the better tight ends that the NFL has to offer, but the Packers have to be better than what they were. Allowing 32 reception on 40 targets for 481 yards, or 15 yards per catch, with four touchdowns just isn’t going to cut it.
For the season, tight ends had only the 17th most targets against this Packers’ defense, but Green Bay gave up the 12th most receptions, the 13th most yards, and the 10th most touchdowns. Although their opponents didn’t target tight ends a ton by any means, when they did, they were efficient and effective.
Now looking ahead to the 2020 season, there are hopefully a few ways that we will see this improve.
One way could be having Darnell Savage as the primary defender on tight ends. He played some cornerback at Maryland as well as down in the box, and he certainly has the coverage ability and athleticism to stick close. We’ve seen Tyrann Mathieu do this successfully for a number of years now.
However, something to be mindful of is that if offenses know that Savage will be on the tight end, that could expose this Green Bay Packers defense elsewhere as it takes away some of that unpredictability.
Another boost against these pesky tight ends could come from the linebacker position. If healthy, Christian Kirksey is better equipped to work in space and in coverage than Blake Martinez was. Not to mention that we hopefully see Oren Burks take a step forward this season as well.
We also have to mention the return of Raven Greene, who missed just about all of last season, and it was quite clear that the middle of this defense missed his presence. In that hybrid linebacker/safety role, Greene can provide help against the run be he’s also able to help in coverage against tight ends and running backs.
Whatever the remedy may be, the Green Bay Packers need to find it. Once again in 2020, they will be facing some tough tight end matchups that include Ertz, Kittle, Jared Cook, and Rob Gronkowski to name a few. And in what is going to be a tight NFC playoff race, how they handle these matchups could very well determine the outcome of those games.