It’s going to take all 11 Packers defenders v. Fields and Bears run game

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 04: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears runs for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Soldier Field on December 04, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 04: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears runs for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Soldier Field on December 04, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Interior defensive lineman Kenny Clark said on Monday that the No. 1 priority for the Green Bay Packers was to slow the Chicago run game. Well, if being in position to stop the run is step one of the process, tackling and bringing the ball carrier to the ground is step two.

The Green Bay run defense is going to be tested right out of the gates, going against one of the best-rushing offenses in football last season. Quarterback Justin Fields totaled over 1,100 yards on the ground, while Khalil Herbert averaged 5.7 yards per rush–the second-highest mark in the NFL. Chicago also added Roschon Johnson in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

"“It was a huge point of emphasis obviously all offseason,” said defensive coordinator Joe Barry on defending the run. “All through the OTAs and training camp. What a challenge this first game in defending the best-rushing offense in the National Football League last year.“And then it’s a whole other dynamic when you talk about what Justin (Fields) brings to them because not only are they a good running team when they simply turn and hand the ball off, he brings a whole other element. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, no doubt.”"

If the Packers are able to contain the Bears’ run game, it’s going to put their offense behind the sticks and in obvious passing situations where the Green Bay defense can thrive. When facing second and third-and-long situations, the Packers’ defensive front can pin its ears back and really get after the quarterback. The secondary can play more aggressively as well, and it will force Fields to make plays with his arm.

But again, in order to put themselves in those situations, Green Bay has to not only be positioned well to have those opportunities to bring down the ball carrier, but they then have to make the tackle–which can be easier said than done, especially when going up against a dynamic player like Fields.

By PFF’s grading system and by total missed tackles, the Packers weren’t an awful tackling team in 2022 by any means, but they weren’t the best either. One strategy to contain Fields could be to use Quay Walker as a spy or someone keeping tabs on him at all times, but instead, it sounds like Green Bay is going to put an emphasis on all 11 defenders swarming to the ball carrier.

I would also expect a heavy use of zone coverage. That way, the defenders can keep their eyes at all times on what’s going on in the backfield. If in man, linebackers and cornerbacks will have to turn their backs to the quarterback at times and could easily lose Fields if he is trying to extend the play.

"“All 11 people on the field have to be aware of it,” said Barry. “You can’t just have it be a four-man rush, and oh, you have a spy. When you’re playing against a quarterback like Justin, especially whether it’s a designed run or it’s a pass that goes off schedule and he takes off, it’s all 11 people.“Not only the people that are responsible for rushing the passer, not only the linebackers, for example, on the second level, but even the people that are in coverage because of what he can do before he crosses the line because he can attempt a pass downfield. I’m a firm believer that when you play a quarterback like Justin Fields, it’s all 11 guys, it’s not just on a handful of people, it’s all 11 who have to be aware of him.”"

The overall play of the Packers’ front seven this summer has seemed to improve from last season. Clark would also mention that if we watch the tape on Monday, we are going to see a different style of play from this defensive front–although he wasn’t going to tip his hat into what that specifically meant.

Based on what we saw during training camp and the preseason, this group looks a lot faster, with there being an emphasis on penetrating gaps rather than eating up space. This is also a more versatile unit, and with TJ Slaton at nose tackle, Clark has had more one-on-one opportunities at defensive end. We’ve also seen more post-snap movement in preseason games as well.

However, while any potential success in slowing the Bears run game starts with the play of the interior defensive line, as Barry said, it’s going to take every member of that defense. The edge rushers will have to set strong edges to limit Fields’ – and the running backs’ – ability to bounce outside. The linebackers will have to fill running lanes, shed blockers, and swarm to the ball carrier. The secondary will have to be in constant pursuit of the ball carrier as well to be in a position to be a reinforcement as a tackler.

"“It’s something we preach all the time because you never want to rush, with those guys, cautious or scared,” added Barry. “You want to go and let them pin their ears back. But you definitely have to be coordinated.“You definitely have to be smart. You have to rush smart. But we still want to allow those guys to do what they do and get after the passer, but you definitely have to be very conscious of the quarterback, especially a quarterback like Justin Fields.”"