Packers' Preston Smith believes in defense's plan despite lack of sacks

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Preston Smith isn’t a fan of the topic. In truth, he’d just as soon the conversation went away. 

“This going to be an every-week question?” he asked rhetorically Thursday. 

But a year removed from his breakout 2019 season, the Green Bay Packers edge rusher has started 2020 very differently. Through four games last fall, Smith had 4½ sacks. He was well on his way to 12 sacks, Pro Bowl-level production, even if the honor eluded him. 

In four games this season, Smith has only half a sack. 

Naturally, Smith’s declining pass-rush production in this early season has gotten some attention. He has hit the quarterback only once. His half sack came in Week 2 against Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.  

Smith said he isn’t concerned with his production in what amounts to a small sample size. 

Green Bay Packers linebacker Preston Smith (91) is shown Monday, August 24, 2020 during the team's training camp at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon.

“It’s part of the plan right now,” Smith said. “There’s going to be some games I’m going to have to drop back a lot more than I’m used to, or a lot more than in the past, but I believe in the plan that’s in, and I believe in the system. It’s all going to all pay off because I’m going to have a lot more games where I rush a lot more and I drop less.” 

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said the plan for Smith has been similar to last season. When pressed, Smith said he also dropped into coverage frequently last fall as well.  

Regardless, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell’s departure to the New York Giants in free agency last spring changed the position. Fackrell specialized as a coverage linebacker. So while his one sack and 10 quarterback hits from 2019 might not be missed, his absence is still noticed. 

“With Kyler here a year ago,” Pettine said, “they were able to share some of those drops.” 

Smith said his role this season has been dependent on game plan. He had fewer opportunities to rush the passer in the season’s first two games than the past two, Smith said. That’s because the Packers used Smith as a pass rusher more against the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, teams quarterbacked by former MVPs Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. 

“Those just have to be the games where I recognize my opportunities,” Smith said, “and I go out there and execute the way I'm known for executing, and I go out there and try to make as many big plays as I can and help the team and the defense out.” 

Smith doesn’t doubt his time is coming. He looks at what teammate Za’Darius Smith did in his last game. Za’darius Smith had just two sacks in his first three games, but he had three sacks against the Falcons. He left that game with five on the season, tied for the NFL lead entering last week’s bye. Za’Darius Smith has since dropped to third behind Myles Garrett and league leader Aaron Donald, who had four sacks last Sunday. 

When sacks come, Preston Smith said, they tend to come all at once. He believes his season will end with a healthy amount. 

“It's a long season,” Preston Smith said, “and like I'm a believer in the plan, I'm a believer in the system, and I know it worked well for me last year, and it was a lot of things I was doing last year well. This year, I still have an opportunity to do those things, but I may not have the sack numbers right now that everybody wants me to have, or it may be not where I want to have it at this point in the season, but I know it's going to come. 

“It's a long season, and sacks come in bunches, and I know when they do come – just like Za'Darius had a big-sack game, a multi-sack game – that can easily be me.”  

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