Rashan Gary Is the Thermometer of Packers Defense

Edge defender had one sack and two tackles during the win over the Bears

After a disappointing performance in week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers defense caused more concern in the first drive against the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. But, after that, it was pretty much impeccable, allowing just three more points for the rest of the night and paving the way for a 27-10 win. And there is one specific player who was essential for making it happen: Rashan Gary.

In the first drive for the Bears’ offense, Gary was dominated in the flea flicker from Justin Fields to Equanimeous St. Brown and wasn't able to set the edge for some run plays - including Fields' rushing touchdown. The lack of ability to convert pressures into sacks, which was one of the main reasons for the loss in Minnesota, was seen again in week 2.

From that point on, though, the defense was what everybody expected it to be before the season. The secondary was highly effective in its zone concepts, De'Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker were impactful against the pass. And the thermometer of the unit was Gary. It might be a chicken or the egg question, but number 52 and the defense as a whole started getting better at the same time.

According to head coach Matt LaFleur after the game, the Packers had "serious headset issues where it kept cutting out" for the first defensive series. It's a potential explanation for the disastrous start, and a reasonable one considering the team allowed only one field goal after that.

Gary's bullrush started to work against right tackle Larry Borom, and the outside linebacker was able to convert power into production, as he did for most of last year. He had his second sack of the season, one per game.

What needs to get better

Everything wasn't perfect, however. Even though the defense is schematically built to prioritize stopping the pass and looked satisfied when the Bears only moved the chains running the ball, the run defense is a legitimate concern for a long time in Green Bay. David Montgomery had 122 yards in 15 carries (8.1 yards per attempt), and even backup Khalil Herbert had a 9.5 average of yards per carry, with 38 yards in four rushes. Gary was part of that failure, too, and his physical profile built to set the edge needs to be better utilized as he develops his game. He usually is effective against the run, but that wasn’t the case for most of the game last night — Preston Smith, on the other hand, was efficient and helped minimize the damage. Number 52 was setting the edge — be it for scheme/gameplan or because he wasn’t being able to do so. Even when he stopped the run and had positive reps, it was by beating Borom from outside in.

The defense ended up having a solid performance against the Bears, and it has a much bigger challenge on the horizon. Next Sunday, the opponents are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team with multiple productive receivers and a commitment to the run game with Leonard Fournette. Rashan Gary is going to be essential to affect Tom Brady's game, and the Packers edge rusher will need to beat the Bucs' best offensive lineman, right tackle Tristan Wirfs, to do so.

PHOTO: Wm. Glasheen-USA TODAY Network Wisconsin

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Wendell Ferreira covers the Green Bay Packers for Zone Coverage and Cheesehead TV. He is a Brazilian journalist with over a decade of experience covering the NFL, soccer, NBA, and MMA. Follow him on twitter at @wendellfp  

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Comments (55)

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Coldworld's picture

September 19, 2022 at 11:21 am

Fields is not the same as Cousins, or most QBs. He’s 230 pounds and fast and has issues reading receivers and with accuracy. He thrives mostly on extended plays when in Motion. Because of that, it’s not so much about sacking him, but about not letting him scramble or just run the ball. That changes how he is played, or should. Sacks come with him when he’s pinned in the box, teams don’t want him flushed. Cousins is a guy you want to rattle. So the two weeks are not really good comparatives in terms of approach or results.

Brady is essentially the complete reverse. He’s one we need to get to, ideally up the middle. We don’t need to worry about him running through the line or around it. We do need to worry about him having the amount of time we let cousins have all too often. We want him being moved early and continually. A very different challenge and one we flunked in Minnesota. The guys we need to really step up are Clark, Reed, Lowry and Slaton and we may see more of Gary in the middle, with a brief to just go for the QB via route 1.

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:38 pm

💯 This is the week the fancy rebuilt D line group needs to show up, stop the run, get them in long down and distance situations and get push up the middle and bother Brady. If they let Fournette run wild it will be a long afternoon, even with all the Bucs' missing weapons.

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Pierre's picture

September 20, 2022 at 07:50 am

It’s all the more alarming when Montgomery gashed the Packers defense running the ball when Fields could rarely complete a downfield pass. Also, when you see how the Eagles held Justin Johnson to 48 yards by playing man to man or double coverage it’s a real problem if the Packers DC keeps playing zone coverage and not change to man to man coverage. So far the Packers DC is not doing a good job when you see how the Eagles shut down the Vikings offense and the Packers got blitzed by the Vikings.

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HawkPacker's picture

September 19, 2022 at 11:35 am

Funny that this article was mainly about Gary when I thought Preston Smith had the better game.

You mention that Devondra Campbell was all over the field. I would agree on Quay Walker but to me I think Campbell was a bit quiet this game and did not hear his name mentioned. I don't mean to say he had a bad game but he does not seem quite as involved as last year. Maybe that is because of Walker's involvement.

I agree that next week's game will be very important and will give us an idea as to how we stack up against the best teams in the NFC. We need Bakhtiari back next week. To me, the two keys to winning next week is being able to put pressure on Tom Terrific and making them one dimensional by stopping their running attack. If we put pressure up the middle that could be the answer to both of these keys.

Should be fun to watch!

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murf7777's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:19 pm

Yes, it will be interesting to see Barry’s scheme for this game. You’re exactly correct the recipe in beating Brady is pressure up the middle because he has eyes in the back of his head and steps up in the pocket so well. Stopping the run and making him one dimensional is very important. Lastly, they need to take away his quick read to make him hold the ball for 3 seconds+…This is one game I circled on my calendar. It’s a Hugh game when considering playoff seeding.

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T7Steve's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:20 pm

I thought he gave Preston his due. He said Gary needed to get better at setting the edge on run plays, but, he did do some good stuff too.

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HawkPacker's picture

September 19, 2022 at 11:34 pm

Absolutely he did but in my estimation did not stand out as well as Smith.

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CoachJV's picture

September 19, 2022 at 11:40 am

Why are you glorifying Gary when Preston Smith had 2 sacks and 7 tackles??? I think this is more about who the author likes better, rather than who actually had the dominant performance.

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murf7777's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:12 pm

Preston had a great game and looks very focused this year. That sack he had on the QB one on one in the open field was awesome. I’ll also give some credit to Barry as he provided a good game plan on how to contain Fields.

Regarding Gary, I think he is a difference maker, one where a team has to game plan around. He’s just so very athletic. We need to hope both stay healthy this year.

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LambeauPlain's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:37 pm

Preston had an excellent performance last night...a very disciplined performance. He was always where he needed to be. He protected his turf and on a few plays that were away from him, on cut backs the other way, there he was...waiting with open arms.

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Rarescope's picture

September 19, 2022 at 07:44 pm

Meh, don't read too much into it. Writers here are volunteers from my understanding so other than the occasional Corey ribbing I don't get too worked up about content choices. I'm sure there will be an article about Smith's performance later in the week. Lotta press time to fill until the next game, amiright?

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Lphill's picture

September 19, 2022 at 11:48 am

Mike Evans suspended for the Packers game.

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murf7777's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:07 pm

Wow, that’s big, especially since there Jones and Godwin are hobbling around.

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PatrickGB's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:22 pm

He is expected to appeal. I doubt he wins it. Second time he has done that.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:11 pm

What a stupid, selfish play. After 8 years in the league, you would think he would show more maturity than that. With his history, there's no way he wins that appeal. He's lucky he only got one game.

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Thegravedigger's picture

September 19, 2022 at 04:10 pm

its a physical game, these things happen. i honestly think a suspension is harsh for a little shoving match, but ill take it, and if godwin and jones are out again, this run D will be put to the test for real, because fornette will be the bucs only weapon left besides 12.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 19, 2022 at 06:52 pm

But he’d still be eligible for the Packer game if he was waiting for an appeal, right?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 20, 2022 at 04:43 am

Yes, that has been the case in the past. It is supposed to be an expedited appeal, whatever that means in practice. I do not know if a player can drag their feet long enough to delay the decision a week and thus play in week 3.

TB plays KC in week 4: they need him for that game as well. They play Atlanta in week 5, which is a division game but the first weak opponent.

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DeezNutz's picture

September 19, 2022 at 04:16 pm

When asked about the altercation, Smith replied, “Well he started it!”

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murf7777's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:06 pm

“ Next Sunday, the opponents are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team with multiple productive receivers and a commitment to the run game with Leonard Fournette”

A little correction on this comment. You might not know this, but Tampa had the lowest % of run plays last year. They truly are a pass happy team and it works very well for them.

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PatrickGB's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:26 pm

That’s true Murf. But Fournette has pretty good stats when he does run. 4.7 average.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 19, 2022 at 06:58 pm

So if Fournette averages 4.7 per attempted run, and Brady averages 7.4 per attempted pass, we want Fournette to run, right?

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:41 pm

Different coach this year.

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marpag1's picture

September 19, 2022 at 03:28 pm

After two games, Tampa ranks 6th in number rushing attempts and 21st in number of passing attempts. Their 49% passing rate is 7th lowest in the league. Fournette is second in the league in rushing attempts, trailing Joe Mixon by only 1.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 20, 2022 at 05:11 am

TB played Dallas and NO in the first two weeks. Both have good defenses. I don't know if that affected their run/pass decisions.

Having watched GB for two games, I imagine most teams will run the ball a lot, but that is just me. OTOH, Tampa Bay did pass a monstrous 731 times in 2021. They did have 385 rushing attempts (they had an excellent offense and thus a lot of plays) but they were still 65.5% passing and 34.5% rushing.

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murf7777's picture

September 20, 2022 at 02:03 pm

Very small sample size, but maybe they are going to the run more this year…We will see but it certainly wasn’t the past two years.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:08 pm

People, do you know who was 3 lineman when Bears late 3Q and early 4Q was running free?

Second stringer! Stop talking about that!

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PatrickGB's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:30 pm

Good point. That reminds me of a question that I have about that. The second stringers seem to come in as a group like they do in hockey. What is the reason for that?

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:46 pm

Good to hear Lowry is in the 2nd string now. He got pushed around 2 or 3 times on that 89 yard all run drive by the Bears.

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Coldworld's picture

September 19, 2022 at 04:45 pm

Then one reads PFF. How screwy are those ratings?

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 19, 2022 at 05:46 pm

Yeah. Terrible. Supposedly the guys that had been doing them for years have moved on to writing articles or up in the company and it's a bunch of fresh hires doing them now. All I know is Lowry got trucked repeatedly last night.

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Coldworld's picture

September 20, 2022 at 07:21 am

It’s not just the Lowry rating, it’s others across multiple positions as well. I’d started to wonder in preseason when ratings would consistently not match what I saw and then saw on rewatching, in both directions. The Vikings ratings were a little off but better, but this week is just crazy to the point where I’m just not givring them any credence at all.

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marpag1's picture

September 19, 2022 at 03:56 pm

What team in the NFL does NOT make use of a D-line rotation? Your rotational players are supposed to be able to hold up. Why on earth should people stop talking about the fact that our guys were getting blown off the field? Dumb.

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croatpackfan's picture

September 20, 2022 at 03:34 am

Rotational guys rarely play together more than one snap. They are replacing one of the starters to let him rest a bit, than you replace another starter after the first come back. But Packers started preventive D already after the FG that put game out of reach. And that is that.

As I can recall, some of the snaps during that period Reed was still in the game, later they replaced him, too.

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murf7777's picture

September 20, 2022 at 02:05 pm

Good point, so than let’s hope our 2nd stringers get better.

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Since'61's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:24 pm

This should be Gary’s season to become a dominant player who takes over a game. Maybe last evening is the beginning, we’ll see.

I don’t understand the communication problems. Doesn’t anyone test the equipment at least a day before the game and then again before the game begins. To have communications breakdown in this era of technology is inexcusable. Not to mention that pre-game preparation should cover the defensive calls. I can’t imagine Nitschke or Willie Davis or Willie Wood not knowing what the expected defensive calls were. Thanks, Since ‘61

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PatrickGB's picture

September 19, 2022 at 12:35 pm

The game is much more complex that it was in the past ( I am probably close to your age). And technology can be tricky. Gremlins pop up. You want the radio signals to work but you don’t want others to be able to steal them. Something could be bumped or damaged on a busy sideline. The defense has been trained to rely on the call from the coordinator and that can lead to hesitation in a fast moving sport.

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Coldworld's picture

September 20, 2022 at 07:24 am

People come to rely on technology. When you do you stop teaching, learning or using those skills that were essential before it. Human nature.

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BAMABADGER's picture

September 19, 2022 at 07:13 pm

Well said Since'61, you can have all the high tech you want. The bottom line is tackling is tackling... something Nitschke, David, and Wood consistently knew how to do play after play.

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Rarescope's picture

September 19, 2022 at 08:04 pm

Well, you know what they say about shit... it happens.

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PackyCheese500's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:34 pm

I think that the biggest advantage the Packers will have in this game is the mismatch of their front 7 versus the Bucs’ injured OL. Look for Clark, Gary, and Smith to have big games next week. With Russel Gage as his no. 1 receiver, Tom Brady shouldn’t have the easiest of times against our D.

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murf7777's picture

September 20, 2022 at 02:08 pm

We have no idea what WR’s will play in the game. Evans could win a appeal, Godwin and Jones could play.

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Ritzy's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:43 pm

While the Packers held the Bears to 10 points, the run defense was porous for long stretches, and Gary wasnt holding the edge well. The Packers need much better play from their front seven against Tampa Bay.

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Thegravedigger's picture

September 19, 2022 at 04:12 pm

the packers need a 3rd edge rusher to spell rashan and preston. they need this years whitney mercilus. its a long season and they cant afford to sit those guys and they will wear down.

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LLCHESTY's picture

September 19, 2022 at 01:52 pm

On thing I'd like to see Gary do is take on more of a leadership role. He's done a great job of leading by example with his work ethic but maybe being more vocal on the sidelines and on the field isn't his comfort zone. They have a lot of great players but I don't think they have a guy that gets in people's faces when they're playing like shit.

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LambeauPlain's picture

September 19, 2022 at 02:00 pm

Gosh...Lambeau was rocking last night!

Good reason for it when the Packers were on D. While tackling was very poor on both bookend drives for the Bares at the beginning of the game (TD) and near the end (successful goal line stand), overall the pass D and pressures on Fields was rock solid and nonstop. Very impressive.

Glass half full concern...to give up nearly 200 yards rushing is very concerning as a bunch of the yards were due to missed tackles. There were very few rushes by the Bares that did not involve missed tackles...I mean just complete whiffs with many flailing attempted arm tackles. Packers rarely strike and wrap up.

While the preseason headlines for the Packer D were premature and they are not yet a lock down Defense...the talent is there for a special group.

But pinch me! AJ and AJD on the field at the same time, doing their slashing and pounding to open up passing plays...and moving the chains, getting first downskeeping the opposition offense on the sidelines. I love it!

And STs...still gaining acceptance...

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marpag1's picture

September 19, 2022 at 02:18 pm

Gary has been pedestrian so far. He has one or two flashy plays and just sort of exists otherwise. He hasn't performed anywhere close to all of the unsubstantiated preseason hype.

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LeotisHarris's picture

September 19, 2022 at 03:05 pm

Thermometer? Odd article and an odd choice of words for Gary's role last night. So do fans use Gary's performance to measure the hotness or coldness of the D, or does the team use that temperature gradient somehow? Did Preston Smith feel the heat radiating off Gary and amp up *his* game? Plus we have so many types of thermometers available to us now. After that first Bears' drive, was Gary a rectal thermometer? Then, after the D got some stops did he transform into a fancy infrared thermometer?

If we're willing to go down this road, I'll contend Elgton Jenkins is the blood pressure cuff of the O. Come at me, you asshats! I'm ready to die on this hill!

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Rarescope's picture

September 19, 2022 at 08:28 pm

Pantz_Burp? Is that you?

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DeezNutz's picture

September 19, 2022 at 04:18 pm

I think the real key to the game was us scoring more points than the Bears.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

September 20, 2022 at 05:21 am

Gary likes to crash inside, and why not? The shortest path between two points is a straight line, so crashing inside is a way to make the splash tackle and to convert pressures into sacks, especially for someone whose bend is not his strongest suit. It is not how one sets the edge, but it looks phenomenal when it works.

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Coldworld's picture

September 20, 2022 at 07:28 am

That’s looked like his role to date this year. It’s not an illogical one either when one considers the options and the lack of blitzing.

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egbertsouse's picture

September 20, 2022 at 07:50 am

PFF had Gary ranked as the Packers third worst defensive player, essentially for his failures against the run. At this point he is a one-trick pony, aim him at the QB and let him bull rush. Makes some splash plays but makes mistakes in run defense . Right now, he’s just a bigger, stronger version of Z. Smith.

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ImaPayne's picture

September 20, 2022 at 08:01 am

Thanks, finally some pack fans eyes are opening about this fraud. I was on to him from his mich days being an m fan. He was a terrible pick at 12. Gutt took him because he can play two positions, ya and neither very good.

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ImaPayne's picture

September 20, 2022 at 07:58 am

Being an M fan I was not high on Gary pre draft and was hoping Gutt would not take him.To this day still not high on him. As pre draft analyst said, he often goes missing in games where the team has very good linemen.
He could put a show on against Maryland and Rutgers but MS and OSU, you don't know if he was playing.
If you like him fine enjoy, he won't re sign.This is his last year he wants the money.

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