Communication on back-end leads to strong performance for Packers Darnell Savage v. Miami

TAMPA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 25: Darnell Savage #26 of the Green Bay Packers reacts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 25: Darnell Savage #26 of the Green Bay Packers reacts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Darnell Savage has been a mainstay in this Green Bay Packers secondary since he was drafted in 2019. However, during that Week 12 matchup with Philadelphia, Savage wasn’t out there with the starters. After a rough season, he had been relegated to dime duties.

Savage had spent a majority of the first nine games of the season at safety for the Packers. Following an injury to Eric Stokes, Savage then found himself in slot with Rasul Douglas having to move to the boundary. But regardless of where Savage was lined up on the field, the same issues persisted.

Consistent tackling has, for the most part, always been a struggle for Savage, but this season he has missed a career-high 18% of his attempts, which was also the third-highest rate in the NFL out of 67 eligible safeties, according to PFF ($$).

On top of that, miscommunications and coverage breakdowns were prevalent as well. From the outside looking in, we may not always know who has what responsibility in the secondary, but more often than not, when there was a breakdown in coverage, Savage was nearby. In the Tennessee game, the Titans’ lackluster passing offense was able to capitalize off these miscues, and the next week we saw Savage benched.

After missing the Chicago game with a foot injury, Savage was available against Los Angeles but only played one snap as a dime safety. When defensive backs coach Jerry Gray was asked if this was a permanent move for Savage, he said that it would be more of a week-to-week decision.

"“The biggest thing I talk to him about is competing,” said Gray prior to the Rams game. Keep competing; you’ll get a chance to get back. We are always evaluating. It’s not that he’s not starting, he’s just maybe not starting last week. Nobody is going to know what’s going to happen this week.”"

Against Miami, Savage got his opportunity in the second half. The Packers again dealt with coverage breakdowns in the first half that resulted in a few big plays for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, with Rudy Ford being in the middle of them.

Savage took over for Ford and played both free safety and in the slot with Keisean Nixon sidelined. He was able to keep a clean stat sheet, with no targets in the passing game, along with one tackle and, just as important, no misses. The coverage breakdowns and miscommunications that the Packers suffered in the first half didn’t happen in quarters three and four, as Green Bay held an explosive Dolphins offense to no points, with Waddle and Hill combining for just 66 yards.

"“Darnell Savage came in the second half, and I really think he did a great job with his overall game,” said Joe Barry on Thursday via “He played well, he played fast, he played physical. The communication aspect was really clicking with him, and I think that had a lot to do with it.”"

This week the Packers face the Minnesota Vikings and Justin Jefferson, who was able to torch Green Bay in Week 1 for 184 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns. The Packers will also have to contend with Adam Thielen, TJ Hockenson, and Dalvin Cook. Schematically the Packers can do a better job of trying to limit Jefferson, but if there are as many coverage breakdowns and miscommunications this time around as there were in Week 1, it doesn’t much matter what the play call is. As Adrian Amos said, slowing Jefferson begins with everyone “doing their job.”

For Savage, whether he will be with the starters or off the bench seems up in the air. If week to week, as Gray said, Savage might have the upper hand over Ford with how he played against Miami. Keisean Nixon’s status will play a role in Savage’s playing time as well, with Green Bay needing someone to take those slot snaps. Against the Dolphins, Savage, Innis Gaines, and De’Vondre Campbell split those reps. Nixon has been held out of Wednesday and Thursday’s practices with a groin injury.

"“He (Savage) was resilient,” said Barry. “He came in here every day, and I think any time any player when they go through something like that, they’re not happy. But you can’t let it affect you. You gotta be a pro, and he did an unbelievable job with that. Resilient was probably the best word I could use. Is that he came in here every day, he didn’t like it, but he grinded through it and worked. Kept allowing coach (Jerry) Gray and coach (Ryan) Downard to coach him, and he did a great job.”"