GREEN BAY - They’ve formed a close bond since arriving in Green Bay last spring, but that doesn’t mean the Smiths can’t disagree.
During their weekly joint session with reporters, Za’Darius and Preston Smith debated the virtues of sacks versus quarterback hits and hurries. Preston Smith said he’d rather have a sack than five quarterback hits. “You have a chance to get a fumble on a sack,” he reasoned. Za’Darius Smith said he’d rather have five quarterback hits.
“I could’ve predicted that’s how that round of questions would have gone,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said, smiling.
Preston Smith leads the Packers with 10.5 sacks this season, a half sack more than Za’Darius Smith. “I’m trying to get my sacks up,” Za’Darius Smith said. But he has 28 quarterback hits, which ties him with Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt for the NFL lead.
“Quarterback hits and hurries affect the quarterback, too,” Za’Darius Smith said. “Being in that situation, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing each and every week and try to keep leading in quarterback hits.”
The question, though: Which is more impactful?
“Five quarterback hits,” Za’Darius Smith said, “will affect the quarterback more throughout the game than one sack, I feel like.”
“He done thrown the ball when you get a hit,” Preston Smith said.
Outside linebackers coach Mike Smith stresses the need to affect the quarterback, not necessarily sack him. Nothing affects the quarterback like a sack. That’s why many top pass rushers have incentives for sacks written into their contracts.
“We might need to renegotiate,” Preston Smith said, joking about the need to have quarterback hits and hurries in contracts. “Put something in there.”
After Preston Smith explained the relationship he built with former teammate Ryan Kerrigan in Washington, where he spent the first four seasons of his career, Za’Darius Smith took his chance to be a reporter.
“Y'all going to swap jerseys?” Za’Darius Smith asked.
Preston Smith apparently has other plans. While Preston Smith appreciated Kerrigan – “he was a great teammate,” he said – he’s known Washington defensive end Montez Sweat even longer. The two played on the same team at Stone Mountain in Georgia, where Preston Smith was a senior and Montez Sweat a freshman. Sweat later transferred to Mississippi State, Preston Smith’s alma mater.
Preston Smith said he anticipates swapping jerseys with Sweat after Sunday’s game.
“It’s a bond me and him have,” Preston Smith said. “We’ve been knowing each other for a long time. I always kept up with him and talked to him when I came back to Georgia. I told him to keep working hard and motivate him to go out there and be the best he can be.”
Looney to tight end
The Packers made a position change this week, though it only affects their practice squad.
James Looney, a former sixth-round pick who was drafted as a defensive lineman, was moved to tight end. At 6-3, 287 pounds, Looney is big for the tight end position, but coach Matt LaFleur said he has shown he can play the position in practice.
“He did such a good job on the scout team,” LaFleur said, “that he kind of caught our eye. He’s a big, athletic guy. So we wanted to make the switch to give him the rest of this season and give him a foundation leading into the offseason.”
After being drafted in 2018, Looney has spent most of the past two seasons – and all of this season – on the Packers' practice squad. He played three games as a defensive lineman after being promoted to the active roster late last season, playing 19 snaps.
Getting the bends
If Pettine had his way, his defense wouldn’t just be hard to break.
The Packers defensive coordinator prefers his defense doesn’t bend, either. This season, that has been an issue. The Packers rank 28th in the NFL, allowing 376.8 yard per game. Their scoring defense is half that – ranked 14th with 21.3 points allowed per game.
The saving grace has been red-zone defense. The Packers have allowed opponents to convert red-zone drives into touchdowns only 47.5 percent of the time, the sixth-fewest in the NFL.
“You want to be dominant,” Pettine said, “but if that’s off the table, then certainly you want to make sure you’re going to choose where you’re going to be good, it’s going to be keeping teams out of the end zone. I think that’s one thing, given the issues we’ve had this year, one thing where we have done a good job.”
That doesn’t mean Pettine is content with the issues.
“You also don’t like it too when you have No. 12 on the other side of the ball,” Pettine said. “Just look at some of the long drives we gave up. We want him back out there. so as I always say, we play our best defense sitting on the bench. That’s key for us. We’ve got to get off the field.”
The Packers remain remarkably healthy while their opponents suffer huge injury hits, the latest being the Chicago Bears losing inside linebacker Roquan Smith (likely for the rest of the season) to a pectoral injury Thursday in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers will host the Bears on Dec. 15.
On Friday, all members of the Packers' 53-man roster practiced. On the week's final injury report, the team listed cornerbacks Kevin King (knee) and Tony Brown (heel) as questionable. Both practiced in full Friday.