In an end that few saw coming, the Green Bay Packers suffered a Divisional Round defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. The game was marked by failure at multiple levels of the offense and a complete collapse on special teams. Ironically, the defense – which was often the squad that has let down the Packers in past years – played a fantastic game. Led by stars like Kenny Clark, Rasul Douglas, and Rashan Gary, and boosted by returning contributors like Za’Darius Smith, Whitney Mercilus, and Jaire Alexander, the defense held the 49ers to only six offensive points. San Francisco’s offense was limited to a total of 212 total yards. They went 0-3 in the red zone, and 4-11 on third down. The GB front seven racked up five sacks, eight tackles for loss, and an interception.
An important part of the Packers defense, both in the regular season and the postseason, was first-round rookie CB Eric Stokes. In this article, I’m going to take a closer look at Stokes’ season as a whole as the Packers prepare for a premature entry into the offseason.
In the 2021 regular season, Eric Stokes played in a total of 16 games, starting 14 of them. He cemented a role as one of Green Bay’s starting CBs after playing 13% of snaps in Week 1 and 77% in Week 2. At first glance, Stokes did not put up an abundance of flashy statistics. He only had one interception all year, and failed to record a TFL or forced fumble.
However, a deeper look paints a much more positive picture. According to Pro Football Reference, Stokes was targeted 97 times, but only allowed 48 completions – a completion percentage of 49.5%. His 49 incompletions included 14 passes defensed – the most on the team. According to NBC Sports, that number is tied for sixth in the NFL. For comparison, the NFL leader in PBUs is Trevon Diggs, with 23. Stokes recorded the same number of deflections as Chidobe Awuzie, Kristian Fulton, and fellow rookie Pat Surtain II. He also racked up 55 tackles, including 43 solo tackles – sixth among the Packers defense. In the air, Stokes allowed 511 yards, three touchdowns, and an opposing pass rating of 71.3.
Of course, raw statistics are incomplete without context. How did Stokes perform in his extensive action for the Packers this season? As mentioned, he allowed an overall pass rating of 71.3 according to Pro Football Reference. Pro Football Focus (PFF), used by many as an important tool for player evaluation, gave him a decent overall rating of 66.3.
Breaking down his season a little more, we can see that Stokes overcame a rocky start to finish the season strong. Using Pro Football Reference again, in five of the first 10 games of the season, he allowed a pass rating of 90+. In four of these games, he allowed a pass rating of 100+. However, after week 11 in Minnesota (Stokes didn’t play in Week 9 due to an injury), the CB did not allow a pass rating worse than 82.9 (which came vs. Baltimore). In the last meaningful game of the regular season – at home against the Minnesota Vikings – Stokes allowed a pass rating of 39.6.
From these trends, it is easy to see how Stokes improved as time went on. Film study backs this up as well. Teams began to target Stokes less, especially down the field. The defensive staff, starting with the Week 10 game against the Seahawks, allowed him to play in a press alignment more often. Stokes appeared to be more comfortable in these looks, and his performance improved accordingly. His debut season culminated with a selection to Sports Info Solutions’ 2021 All-Rookie Team.
No Packers fans wanted to look forward into the offseason at this point in the playoffs. However, now that we must, there are reasons for optimism despite the uncertain future of the team. Brian Gutekunst has built a talented core of young players on both sides of the ball. Stokes provides a great example of this fact. With the improvement we’ve seen from him, it seems likely that he’ll be an excellent player for years to come. Provided Jaire Alexander can return to full health, the Packers could have one of the best young CB tandems in the league next year.
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