“Get Kenny Clark help!” This is what many Green Bay Packers fans have hoped for in the last offseasons.
The inner line of defense, however, is largely not one that the Packers have invested in.
In 2019 they picked Kingsley Keke in round five, in that final draft they also took TJ Slaton in round five, and there was little activity in the free agent market.
The bottom line is that Clark does the lion’s share of the work inside – and as good as Clark is, he can’t do it all by himself.
While it was a tough start to the season on the central defense line for those not named Clark, the last three games have been much better, with the Green Bay Packers defense receiving contributions from several different players.
In Week 3 against San Francisco, Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster didn’t fill the stats with just a push and a stop – or a game that resulted in a “loss” per PFF ($$) – but they got a chunk constant thrust throughout the game. This was by far Lancaster’s best performance in a while.
It is no accident that Clark led the team in that six-player game. The 49ers would also average just 3.2 yards per rush.
The following week against Pittsburgh it was Keke’s turn. He recorded a sack, a fumble that eventually led to a Packers touchdown, and two total pressures. He was also the top-rated defensive player on that Packers team that week from PFF.
On the ground, the Steelers were kept in check, averaging 4.0 yards per rush, with Najee Harris’ longest run being 11 yards.
Then last Sunday in Cincinnati it was Lowry again who made the noise. Lowry led the team in press with four, one of which was a sack, and he also had two passes beaten and logged one stop. As a team, the Bengals would cover an average of 4.3 yards per rush.
Even rookie TJ Slaton has had some success in his limited playtime.
With more reliable contributions from Lowry, Lancaster, and Keke, this will of course help the defense, but one positive trickle-down effect is that it frees Joe Barry to move Clark more often.
Under Mike Pettine, Clark spent most of his time in the nose tackle position – often because he was the only one effective there.
His job was to take on double teams, fill blockers, and make room for his teammates – not exactly a position someone will fill the stats in, even though Clark still shaped a lot of games because he’s just so good.
But by moving Clark to the 4-tech orientation, it gives him more one-on-one options, and that’s never a bad thing. According to PFF ($$), Clark has lined up 75 snaps over an offensive tackle this season. In 2020 it had only 130 all year round and in 2019 it had 85.
This season, Clark’s 16 prints are the twelfth highest of all internal defensive linemen, and his 14 stops are in fourth place. It also has the eleventh highest overall grade.
There were only a few games in the grand scheme of an NFL season, and there is no way that this defensive front will be elite or ever dominate those who are not called Clark.
However, if the Green Bay Packers can get a consistent game of Lowry, Lancaster, Keke, Slaton, or any combination – and it doesn’t matter who – Clark has the ability to make more moves and overall defense will be improved.