Preston Smith Much Improved Through First 3 Games

The Green Bay Packers need a bounce-back season from Preston Smith, and so far through three games, that's exactly what they've gotten.

Many of us assumed that the 2020 season was Preston Smith's final in Green Bay. He was coming off a very down year, to put it simply, and the Packers, who found themselves in a cap crunch, could save $8 million in cap space by moving on from him. 
 
But instead, the team, and Smith, opted to go a different direction. Smith is obviously still in Green Bay, but in order to make the financials work, it took Smith taking an incentive-laden pay cut.
 
Smith's new deal comes with a salary of $8 million and up to $4.4 million in performance incentives based on how many sacks he can log this season. 
 
The result was Smith's 2021 cap number dropping from $16 million to $8.73 million, according to Over the Cap, and the Packers were able to hang on to him. I also need to mention that his 2022 cap hit did increase, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it. 
 
As a whole, the pressure generated by this Green Bay Packers' defense in 2020 fell off compared to the 2019 season. Now, that of course doesn't all fall on Smith's shoulders, but going from 62 pressures and 12 sacks to only 29 pressures and four sacks doesn't help either. 
 
For this Green Bay Packers defense to reach its full potential in 2021, they'll need Smith to bounce back this season. This became even more true once Za'Darius Smith was placed on IR, and so far, that's what we've seen from him.
 
“Preston has had a lot of great moments and I think he is playing more consistent,” said coach Matt LaFleur via WBAY. “I think the energy and effort is there. he is doing a good job of being a great leader on our defense and he just has to keep going.” 
 
Although Smith's pass-rushing numbers aren't eye-popping by any means, he's leaving his mark on each game and has shown much more consistency from play to play. He hasn't disappeared, and he's winning his one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage with regularity.
 
So far, Smith has eight pressures, one sack, and seven stops -- or plays that result in a loss for the offense -- according to PFF. However, where Smith has really made significant improvement is against the run--an area that he struggled in last season.
 
Smith is doing a terrific job of setting the edge and making his tackles when presented with the opportunity. His run defense grade from PFF reflects this as well, as he ranks second among all edge rushers in this category. 
 
As far as what the difference is between Smith's performance in 2021 compared to 2020, well, a big factor is that he's finding his rhythm early on in games:
 
"I'm getting in rhythm a lot earlier this year than what I was last year, said Smith. "I feel like I'm in rhythm a lot earlier and a lot sooner in the game and that sticks throughout the game for that consistency. 
 
"You have to get your playmakers in rhythm just like on any side of the ball, and I like to be in rhythm early, hitting some guys, getting some rushes in, and getting a feel for the game, so I can get in my flow and get in my zone and play the way that I know how to play."
 
Through three games, Smith has responded well after he struggled through the 2020 season, and realistically, his impact could grow once Za'Darius Smith returns--he's just another pass-rusher for opposing offenses to worry about. 
 
Will Smith reach 62 pressures and 12 sacks as he did in 2019? Maybe not; I mean, that was a career year for him. But even if he doesn't, he can still absolutely leave his mark on this season--which he has up to this point.
 
"I'm proud of Preston," said Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday. "Preston's come in and taken a pay cut and been a great teammate and a great leader. He's practiced really well, and the way that he's played and battled and led, I thought he's played good all three games." 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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6 points

Comments (19)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
BartySmith76's picture

October 01, 2021 at 11:36 am

I wonder how much our run defense improvement is due to Z-Smith not being on the field.

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dobber's picture

October 01, 2021 at 01:11 pm

Run defense improvement?

2020 Packers Run D: 112.8 ypg, 4.5 ypc
2021 Packers Run D: 115.3 ypg, 4.4 ypc

2020 Packers Pass D: 221.2 ypg, 7.1 ypa
2021 Packers Pass D: 206 ypg, 6.7 ypa

7 points
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Bear's picture

October 01, 2021 at 10:06 pm

Thanks Dobber

1 points
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jont's picture

October 01, 2021 at 12:37 pm

I have a couple questions for our capologists.
Preston's salary was cut and there was cap relief, but he can still get paid with all the incentives. If he has a good year and meets his targets and gets paid, doesn't this erase the cap savings?
If so, isn't there a scenario, maybe not with him but with somebody, that these incentive payments would send a team over the cap? What happens then?

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dobber's picture

October 01, 2021 at 01:16 pm

Depends on whether they are likely to be earned (like per game bonuses) or unlikely to be earned (like getting 18 sacks). Likely to be earned incentives DO count against the current year, while those that are unlikely to be earned would count against 2022 if those are met. Since his sack incentives are all written at a level above the 4 he had last year, they're all judged unlikely to be earned.

4 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 01, 2021 at 01:25 pm

Yes. Strictly speaking, GB got $7.25M in cap savings and preston's incentives max out at $4.4M. So it could erase a lot of the cap savings.

If Preston Smith reaches those incentives, they count against the 2021 cap. However, if GB does not have enough cap space, the excess amount will count against the 2022 cap, like dead money. That's one of the few ways to exceed the cap in a perfectly legal way, and there is no penalty for doing so.

8 points
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jont's picture

October 02, 2021 at 08:35 am

thanks, gentlemen

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PhantomII's picture

October 02, 2021 at 12:47 pm

If our offense improves and get ahead early, the opponent may pass more, increasing his odds of getting the sacks he needs. The slow game of running the ball eats time off the clock also limiting chances. Playing a much harder schedule also limits this possibility because of better teams overall will limit both the team getting ahead and better blocking. He is a better edge setter than Z and has really long arms to keep his cushion to disengage the blocker. I think he can get 10, but not much more.

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dobber's picture

October 05, 2021 at 09:35 am

This is how this team has been built for the last umpteen many years: get a lead, put pressure on opposing offenses to keep up and make mistakes, play from ahead.

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BAMABADGER's picture

October 01, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Gary isn't performing at a level of a 12th pick. Or wait his still learning the nuances of the game after 3 years.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

October 01, 2021 at 03:19 pm

I look a Gary as similar to Kenny Clark. Also a first rounder, also very, very young coming into the league. For sure needed time to develop but wow what an impact now.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 01, 2021 at 06:04 pm

The only thing holding Gary back are the coaches and their scheme.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

October 01, 2021 at 02:46 pm

I think the D became better the minute Stokes replaced King but not sure it's all that good yet. Gary is invisible, except for Clarke the DL is weak and don't forget, in all the excitement of the victory, Garappalo marched the Niners to a TD pretty easily.

If Stokes is for real, someone developed on the DL like Slayton and when Z comes back the D might legitimately be at least middle of the pack, which is good enough if the O is equivalent to last years.

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canadapacker's picture

October 01, 2021 at 07:20 pm

As far as I am concerned - I liked the Bears philosophy under Urhlacher - no loafs - and in watching Preston I still see a lot of loafs. In order for him and the Packers to be successful on the D - they need to have everybody running to the ball on each and EVERY play. Rotation may be the key but Preston needs to hustle down the line and he needs to close the gap when they run away from him

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albert999's picture

October 02, 2021 at 02:11 am

Z Smith out for the year back surgery ….over
Cut bait….will never be the same

3 points
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13TimeChamps's picture

October 02, 2021 at 10:59 am

Thanks Doc for your informed input.

-1 points
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albert999's picture

October 02, 2021 at 08:50 pm

What do u have ?

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13TimeChamps's picture

October 03, 2021 at 07:38 pm

Nothing. But I don't pretend to have inside knowledge or being a medical expert.

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albert999's picture

October 04, 2021 at 01:11 pm

It was reported on 3 different sports sites
Mr lame reply

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