Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark trying to beat double-teams, inconsistency at the same time

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
View Comments

GREEN BAY – If there’s one guy the Green Bay Packers count on to consistently cause problems for opposing offenses, it’s nose tackle Kenny Clark.

The 27-year-old two-time Pro Bowl selection has anchored the defense for three different coordinators since being drafted in the first round in 2016 and was coming off arguably his best season in 2021.

But like the rest of the Packers defense, Clark has underperformed, especially over the last three games, and it is eating at him. Clark didn’t suddenly become a bad player. He hasn’t even reached the prime of his career and the amount of double team blocks he receives belies the notion that he has lost it.

“Heading into our game, we thought Clark was playing at a high level,” said a pro scout from a recent Packers opponent. “We did not see a decline and thought he was still a really good player.”

If that’s the case, then what has caused Clark to go from 7½ quarterback knockdowns, 25 pressures, four sacks and 1½ tackles for loss after 12 games last year to three quarterback hits, 12 pressures, four sacks and a half tackle for loss this year?

Clark takes the blame for his recent lack of production.

Kenny Clark sites issues with consistency for recent struggles

“I don’t think I’m playing bad,” Clark said. “On tape, I'm still doing good stuff. I'm just saying just the consistency, being able to disrupt, being consistent with it, I'm just struggling. I’m struggling with that at this moment. I’ve got to get out of that. And just be better.”

Against Philadelphia on Sunday night, Clark was part of a unit that gave up 363 yards rushing, the third-highest total in Packers history. He had just one tackle and let running back Miles Sanders slip through his arms on a 15-yard touchdown run that should have been a 1- or 2-yard gain.

Clark doesn’t usually miss many tackles. He missed five all last season and had missed four going into the Eagles game.

The amount of double-team blocks he is receiving may account for his recent decline in production.

Clark received his share of double-team blocks against Chicago, New England and Washington earlier in the year, but it wasn’t until his former coach, Mike McCarthy, came into Lambeau Field with his Dallas Cowboys, that he saw a concerted effort to take him out of the game.

McCarthy doubled Clark on 20 of his 64 snaps, including 14 times on passing plays, making sure that he was not going to pressure quarterback Dak Prescott up the middle. Clark still managed to make four tackles and register a sack in the Packers’ 31-28 overtime victory, but McCarthy kept him from blowing up his offense.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott throws a pass as guard Zack Martin helps against pressure from Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark on Nov. 13.

The following week, the Tennessee Titans, who have a better offensive line than Dallas, decided not to double Clark, despite starting center Ben Jones, missing the game. Clark blew Titans center Andrew Brewer off the line of scrimmage numerous times and played an integral role in holding running back Derrick Henry to 87 yards on 28 carries.

No one on the defensive line had much success rushing the passer because coordinator Joe Barry had the group sacrifice pass rush for playing run gaps to keep Henry in check. Dean Lowry had a quarterback hit and Jarran Reed and T.J. Slaton had one pressure each and that was it.

Eagles also used double teams against Clark

Against Philadelphia, the double teams on Clark resumed. He was doubled on 16 of 57 snaps, eight on pass plays and eight on runs.

The problem with double-teams for Clark is that he likes to use his quickness to beat a lineman off the snap or shock a center with his two-hand punch, but if he’s double-teamed his No. 1 objective is to hold his gap and make sure that the running back or a scrambling quarterback can’t get past him.

If he can split the double team, that’s one thing, but if he tries to escape around either side, he’s in danger of leaving a giant gap in the defense. His only option is to beat the second block before it gets to him.

“I mean, really, I’ve got to just try to just be more disruptive without going rogue and mess stuff up,” Clark said. “I’ve just got to get better in my technique. I haven’t really been truly consistent. Like these last three games, I think I played the run really well in the Cowboys game, but that Bills game, Detroit, this past week, as far as running game and the fundamentals, it hasn’t been to my standard.”

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark works against Detroit Lions center Evan Brown during their game Nov. 6 in Detroit.

Packers can help Kenny Clark by using multiple fronts

Still, there are ways that Barry can scheme things to get Clark more one-on-ones, especially in the pass game. He had to do it when he was on the Los Angeles Rams staff and opponents tried to double-team all-pro Aaron Donald on almost every play.

The Rams countered by lining Donald up and down the defensive line to try to make it unpredictable where he’s going to be.

“He’s got a lot more freedom,” Clark said. “A lot more.”

When Barry rushes just four, Clark plays inside most often with Jarran Reed and one of the two is going to get doubled. Because Barry doesn’t blitz a ton, opposing teams know where Clark is going to be when it’s a four-man rush.

When it’s third and long and Barry goes to his “jet” package, both Clark and Reed are lined up as three-techniques, which means they are placed outside the guard’s shoulder. The two inside linebackers generally line up on either side of the center, trying to make the line guess how many rushers are coming.

If the two inside rushers don’t blitz, then its easy to double either Clark or Reed.

“The thing you can do to help that is play multiple fronts,” Barry said. “You play different fronts. Within those fronts, you’re able to have movements to counter the hard double-teams. But to be able to create no double teams for a three-technique, defensive tackle or a nose guard, that’s challenging.”

Against the Eagles, Barry played nickel (five defensive backs) most of the game, employing two-defensive linemen on 52 plays, three on 19 plays and four on 10 plays. It meant that about 65% of the time the Eagles could easily double either of the two defensive tackles.

It hurts Clark that pass rusher Rashan Gary is out for the season with a torn ACL because his presence drew extra attention away from Clark both when lined up outside or in the middle. But Kingsley Enagbare has been solid in Gary’s place and newcomer Justin Hollins was disruptive in his debut Sunday, so Barry still has options to get Clark some free rushes.

Clark said that regardless of the scheme he’ll take matters into his own hands starting this week against Chicago.

“I'm getting less and less opportunities to really turn it up and rush,” he said. “There are times where I am getting good (matchups) and I have to be able to take advantage. It’s something I've been frustrated about.

“I’ve got to figure out how to combat that, whether it's me and J-Reed running games or me and JJ (Enagbare) or P (Preston Smith) running games (stunts), I’ve got to get them thinking more, so that I'm just not just running up and coming inside and just banging my head against the center, just getting double-teamed all the time.”

More:Aaron Rodgers returns to Packers practice Thursday; Justin Fields a full participant in Chicago

Silverstein: Matt LaFleur's top priority must be keeping doubt out of Packers locker room

View Comments