Going into the 2023 season, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Green Bay Packers. Of course, the quality of play of the young offense led by first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love garnered the most attention. Those who followed the team closely, though, knew that on defense, the safety position was just as big of a question mark.
Darnell Savage had down years in 2021 and 2022 and Adrian Amos departed for the New York Jets via free agency. Of course, the Packers were not interested in bringing him back and he had a down year himself in 2022. Green Bay brought in Jonathan Owens as a free agent to add depth, and they hung onto Rudy Ford who showed flashes last season.
Still, there was not a great deal of optimism surrounding the safety position. Through the season’s first three games, though, both Savage and Ford have garnered praise and admiration from their coaches while having positive impacts on each game.
Green Bay Packers Coaches Praise Darnell Savage for His Leadership
On Monday afternoon, defensive coordinator Joe Barry was asked about the steps forward that Savage has taken this season. It is obvious from watching him that Savage is having the best tackling season of his career and his a force to be reckoned with on run defense. Barry responded (via Ryan Wood on X):
“It’s been really cool for him to really take a step. He’s really taken a step this year in terms of leadership. I love the play style he’s playing with right now. He’s flying around, he’s throwing his body around.”
And Barry is not the only one who has mentioned Savage’s leadership. “Packs What She Said” co-host Maggie Loney shared this tidbit from head coach Matt LaFleur:
Matt LaFleur has mentioned Darnell Savage in multiple post-game pressers. Said he’s on the sidelines saying things like “don’t worry, Coach, we got you” when moments of adversity strike.
Impressive leadership and energy from #26 who’s had a nice start to the season.
— Maggie Loney (@MaggieJLoney) September 25, 2023
Savage is playing in the final year of his rookie contract after Green Bay picked up his fifth year option. It certainly seems like he is earning an extension.
Rudy Ford Is One of the Green Bay Packers’ Highest-Graded Defensive Players
In the Packers’ 18-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Rudy Ford was the team’s highest graded defensive player per PFF. He had a 88.2 overall grade with seven tackles and allowed just one reception (for four yards) while being targeted four times.
Ford, who has started all three games this season, is allowing a completion percentage of just 37.5% when targeted this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a 54.2 passer rating when throwing his way.
Going into the season, LaFleur and Barry would not commit to who their other starting safety would be alongside Savage. Ford earned the starting job in training camp and it is easy to see how and why.
Both Darnell Savage and Rudy Ford Have Been Big-Time Run Defenders
The Packers’ biggest weakness on defense, as has been the case for years, is the run defense. In order for the defensive unit to be successful in the run game, players other than the front seven need to step up.
Savage and Ford have done that. Ford is currently Green Bay’s fifth-highest graded run defender by PFF with a grade of 69.6. Savage is seventh with a grade of 63.8.
It’s only been three games, but the Packers’ safety duo is playing much better than expected.