NFL Packers 49ers 49ers v Packers American Football The Packers had one of their best defensive campaigns in recent memory during the 2020 NFL season. They
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What's wrong with the Packers' defense? Za'Darius Smith injury, Kevin King return, new DC to blame

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What's wrong with the Packers' defense? Za'Darius Smith injury, Kevin King return, new DC to blame

NFL Packers 49ers 49ers v Packers American Football

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The Packers had one of their best defensive campaigns in recent memory during the 2020 NFL season. They ranked ninth in yards allowed (334) and 13th in scoring defense (23.1) en route to earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture.Coming into 2021, there were hopes that they could replicate their relative success while cleaning up some of the areas that troubled them down the stretch. Instead, they have regressed in the early stages of the 2021 campaign.The Packers have allowed the ninth-most points per game through two games at 27.5. They have been better in terms of total yardage allowed — their 333 per game ranks 10th in the NFL and just about matches their average allowed last season — but they are undeniably having issues. After all, their defense allowed a 123.3 passer rating to Jameis Winston and Jared Goff. That ranks 27th in the NFL. So, what exactly is going wrong for the Packers? It boils down to a few key issues.TIMELINE: Recapping all of the Aaron Rodgers/Packers dramaZa'Darius Smith's injury-related absenceThe Packers have largely been without Smith through two games to start the season. He played just 18 defensive snaps in Week 1 against the Saints before he exited. He had been nursing a back injury in the lead-up to the game and was placed on IR ahead of Week 2.Losing Smith was a huge blow to the Packers' defense. He is one of three NFL players to record at least 12.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons. The other two were Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt. Smith led Green Bay in sacks during each of his first two seasons with the team, so his absence is hurting them.The Packers have recorded just one sack through two games. That ranks dead last in the NFL. Preston Smith and Rashan Gary have had to do the heavy lifting at the edge rush positions, and the team doesn't have much pass rushing depth behind them. So, they haven't been able to sustain consistent pressure when either has been out of the game. That's why Pro Football Focus has given the Packers a pass-rush grade of 65.9, good for 24th in the NFL.Green Bay should have a better pass rush when Za'Darius Smith returns. For now, his absence has had a big impact on the team, as the Packers' inability to get pressure on the quarterback has forced the coaching staff to ask more of the secondary. They haven't exactly delivered, especially at one spot.MORE: How Sam Darnold is breaking free of Adam Gase in CarolinaThe Packers brought back Kevin King as a starterIt seemed like King and the Packers were heading for a split during the 2021 NFL offseason after his woeful performance against the Buccaneers in the 2021 NFC championship game. He was beaten twice in coverage for touchdowns, was run over by Leonard Fournette on another one and he committed what amounted to the game-ending penalty.Instead, the Packers elected to re-sign King to a one-year deal. The results have not been favorable.King's struggles have continued for the Packers through two weeks. He has been targeted only six times, but he has allowed five catches for 133 yards. NFL quarterbacks are logging a perfect 158.3 passer rating against him, and he was torched easily on a 55-yard touchdown catch by Saints receiver Deonte Harris in Week 1.SLING DAT THANG JABOOO 👏55 YARD TD TO HARRIS 🔥#GBvsNO | 📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/0E9moKtzyE— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 12, 2021King has had some bright moments over the years — he had a five-interception season in 2019 — but he simply hasn't performed well enough to be a starter since the beginning of 2020. Nonetheless, the Packers have played him for 90-plus percent of the defensive snaps in each of their two games to date.It won't be long before first-round rookie Eric Stokes — PFF's ninth-rated cornerback — earns more snaps and pushes King out of the starting lineup. He may still get some snaps in a platoon with Chandon Sullivan, but King needs to be a role player for the Packers. Not the No. 2 corner across from Jaire Alexander.That's why the Packers played him in the slot for 22 snaps against the Lions. That allowed Stokes to play outside and contributed to the team's solid second-half performance.MORE: Urban Meyer says NFL is "like playing Alabama" every weekChoosing Joe Barry to replace Mike PettineMike Pettine took over the Packers after the 2017 season. The unit had previously been led by Dom Capers and finished 22nd in yards and 26th in points allowed before Pettine took over.During Pettine's three years in Green Bay, the Packers defense gradually improved. They peaked as a top-10 unit in 2020 and helped buoy the team's strong offense, led by Aaron Rodgers.Pettine's defensive rankings by yearYearYards allowedPoints allowed2018182220191892020913However, Pettine's contract expired after the 2020 NFL season and the Packers elected not to extend him. They opted to hire a new defensive coordinator and settled on Joe Barry as their choice.Barry was a strange selection. He was in the running for the job and was hired shortly after Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard turned the job down, per ESPN. Barry has had two previous stops as a defensive coordinator, and neither has gone well.Barry spent two seasons as the Lions coordinator in 2007 and 2008. His defenses ranked last in yards and points allowed in each campaign, which included an 0-16 season in 2008.With Washington, Barry was better, but only by default. Washington finished bottom-five in yards allowed in back-to-back seasons while their scoring defense was slightly below average; it ranked 17th and 19th under Barry. He lasted just two years in Washington (2015-2016).Barry is just 51, so he may have improved in the five years since his last coordinator stop. He did work with Sean McVay, Brandon Staley and the Rams last year, after all. And Matt LaFleur has a relationship with him from their lone year together in Los Angeles (2017), so there is at least familiarity between the two.Still, Barry's tenure isn't off to a great start. The Packers allowed 55 points in the first six quarters of the season before figuring out the Lions in the second half of their Week 2 meeting. Maybe that will spark a turnaround, but Barry's teams have just a 25-40-1 record with him in charge of the defense. None have ever won playoff games.So, either way, banking on Barry to serve as an upgrade over Pettine is certainly a risk.

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