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Another week, another dynamic defensive front for Packers to battle

Washington’s four first-round picks anchor a unit looking to recapture last year’s success

Washington Football Team's defensive front
Washington Football Team's defensive front

GREEN BAY – It really doesn't compute.

Last year, the Washington Football Team's defense ranked second in the league in yards allowed and fourth in points, leading Washington to a playoff berth and nearly a first-round triumph.

This year, with mostly the same personnel, the unit has fallen to second-to-last in the league in yards allowed and last in points.

But the Packers aren't concerning themselves with Washington's rankings heading into Sunday's matchup at Lambeau Field. It's the personnel that has proven itself in the past that has Green Bay's attention, particularly the defensive front.

The quartet of Chase Young and Montez Sweat on the edges, plus Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne on the inside, continues a run of formidable fronts the Packers have faced, all while dealing with injuries on the offensive line.

Which is the best among the 49ers in Week 3, Steelers in Week 4, Bengals in Week 5, Bears last week, or Washington this week can be debated, but there's no dispute about how intentionally and methodically Washington went about building its group.

The WFT spent four first-round draft picks in consecutive years to assemble its front, starting on the interior by choosing Allen (17th overall in 2017) and Payne (13th in '18), followed by the edge guys Sweat (26th in '19) and Young (second in '20). The fifth member who rotates in is a solid performer as well in Matt Ioannidis, a fifth-round pick back in 2016.

"They got creatures all along the defensive line," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "I think one of the misleading stats that everybody looks at is the number of sacks. They affect the quarterback time and time again."

While Allen (three sacks), Sweat (three), Young (two) and Payne (one) have combined for nine sacks through six games, it's the inside pressure Washington generates that stands out.

Allen ranks third in the league among defensive tackles with 25 pressures while Payne ranks seventh with 21. For perspective, Green Bay's Kenny Clark, who's playing as well as any Packers defensive player right now, is in between those two, tied for fourth with 22.

In addition, the highest-profile pick of the four in Young has both of his sacks in the last two games, a sign the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 is starting to hit his stride.

"It's a very difficult front to block up," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "They got great edge rushers and guys who push the pocket inside. We've been on a streak now of four or five straight weeks of really good fronts that we've played.

"Protection-wise, we're going to have to try to slow them down a little bit and running the ball is obviously going to be important."

The Packers continue to adjust on the offensive line due to injuries and will most likely start Sunday with the same group that finished last week's game in Chicago – (from left to right) Elgton Jenkins, Jon Runyan, Lucas Patrick, Royce Newman and Billy Turner.

Five-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari practiced Wednesday for the first time all season, taking another step in his recovery from a torn ACL last December. But he's not expected to play right away.

The Green Bay Packers held practice on Clarke Hinkle Field on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.

Jenkins returned last week from a three-game absence, while Patrick filled in for Josh Myers for a second straight week after the rookie center left the Chicago game with a knee injury in the first quarter. Myers, who sat out Week 5 at Cincinnati with a finger issue, is expected to miss multiple games, and Rodgers called it "priceless" to have a veteran of Patrick's caliber to call upon in times like these.

"I tell him every single time he's out there that I love going to battle with him," Rodgers said, "because he's the kind of guy you know who's always going to have your back."

LaFleur said Patrick graded out the highest amongst the offensive linemen in Chicago despite coming off the bench with nothing but scout team reps under his belt during the week.

Rodgers also had high praise for Turner, whose versatility in both 2019 and '20 was invaluable to the offensive line, but who has settled in at right tackle and potentially deserves Pro Bowl attention, according to his quarterback.

"When he came here, you saw his ability at guard … but man, he's a real good tackle," Rodgers said. "He's got such a good feel, good punch, good set, very athletic.

"He's had a really nice season so far. We've played a number of really good pass rushers on both sides – left side and right side – and I feel like he's played really, really well."

More of the same will be required this week. LaFleur added that keeping a good run-pass mix while also changing up the types of passes the Packers call – play-action, bootleg, quick release, deep drop – will hopefully keep Washington's pass rush from getting in any kind of groove.

"If you don't do that against this group," LaFleur said, "you're gonna be in for a long day."