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Kenny Clark Up, Rest of Defense Down for Packers

Kenny Clark, Romeo Doubs, and Packers’ RBs impress in loss to Vikings.

The Green Bay Packers suffered a 23-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings to open the 2022-23 season. Here are the players and units that received an up for their promising performance, or down for a less than stellar expected performance. 

Up: Kenny Clark

The Packers’ most dominant player was easily defensive tackle Kenny Clark. The 26-year-old Clark is the foundation of the Packers’ defense and certainly performed that way. Clark was able to win consistently against the interior of the Vikings’ offensive line, creating opportunities for the Packers’ pass rush. The two-time Pro Bowler will hope his fellow defenders seize those pass rush opportunities more frequently, as Rashan Gary was the only Packer to record a sack. Next week Kenny Clark, Gary, and the Pack defense will have the chance to sack Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields but will have to be wary of the young QB’s mobility. 

Down: Defensive Identity 

All in all, the Packers’ defense did not lose this game, but they certainly did not win it. Much of the talk around the Packers defenders was that the unit was ready and able to carry this team, much like the Rodgers-led offense has done for many seasons. In their first attempt of the season, this was not exactly the case. 

The Packers were absolutely torched by the Vikings star WR Justin Jefferson, who put up Randy Moss-type stats against the Packers’ secondary. New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell wanted to use Jefferson like he did Cooper Kupp last year as the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator and succeeded. Jefferson secured 9 catches for 184 and two touchdowns. The 184 yards is the high mark for the young career of the ascending phenom. Packers’ safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage had a rough day trying to help Jefferson, who was able to catch deep ball after ball with very little challenge. The Packers’ best chance to cover Jefferson was by having star CB Jaire Alexander shadow the versatile Viking, but defensive coordinator Joe Berry elected not to go that route. After the game, Alexander made it clear that he wanted to cover Jefferson but was not assigned to do so.

The Packers’ defense is still very talented, and with better performance by their stars and some support from the offense, they are capable of excellence. One of the most exciting bright spots during this game was rookie Quay Walker, who made eight tackles, seven of which were solo. This was good enough for second on the team behind fellow inside backer De’Vondre Campbell. The combination of Walker and Campbell behind defensive tackle Kenny Clark makes for a fearsome interior. 

Down: Offensive Line

Losing David Bakhtiari and Elton Jenkins has had the most negative impact on the Packers last season and to begin this year. Both All-Pro players had hoped to play in Week One, but both were downgraded late in the week. Against the formidable duo of Danielle Hunter and Z’Darius Smith, the Packers’ offensive line was overwhelmed. Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and turned the ball over twice with an interception and fumble, a rarity for the MVP QB. Rodgers will need to throw the ball quickly to relieve the pressure on his line, which will benefit tremendously from the eventual return of Bakhtiari and Jenkins. 

Up: AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones

Another way to relieve pressure on Rodgers is to jumpstart the duo of Packers running backs AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones. The Packers never really got into the game script they would like to, which would see Jones and Dillon running the ball to help set up quick throws and play action for Rodgers. The two still were able to combine for 167 yards, and Dillon was the Packers leading receiver. The bruising back has shown skill in the passing game, flashing his quickness to turn short catches into solid gains. Dillon was stuffed short on a fourth and one-goal line play by former Packer Z’Darius Smith. Smith was extremely effective against his former team, producing one of the Vikings’ four sacks on Aaron Rodgers. The Packers will look to target their two most effective weapons even more in next week’s contest against the division rival Chicago Bears. 

Up: Romeo Doubs

The star of the Packers preseason was solid in his first regular season game, catching four balls for 37 yards, as well as a nice reverse which gained the Packers a first down on their only scoring possession. The four catches tied Dillon for the most by a Packer, and his 37 yards were the best amongst WRs and second on the team. Doubs also looked extremely comfortable as a pass blocker, which is a key aspect of success as a Matt LaFleur-coached wide receiver. 

The rest of the Packers receivers would receive a down score. Fellow rookie Christian Watson flashed some impressive athleticism but dropped a sure-fire TD on the first play of the Packers’ offensive season.  Watson also ran a bad route that nearly resulted in another Rodgers pick. This poor performance may land Watson in Rodgers’ doghouse, but the two will need to develop some chemistry for the Packers offense to be successful this season. 

Written by Joel Kananen

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